At the core of our practical approach is a tangible shift in the quality and
effectiveness of our communication. This is simultaneously a shift in the
patterning and flow of our attention, a shift in the kind of things
spontaneously give our attention to, and a difference in how we feel
ourselves, and the people we are interacting with. In broad terms, it
corresponds to the difference between relating from a suspicious or
manipulative standpoint, and placing ourselves instead on the ground of
openness, goodwill and acceptance. This, I need hardly point out, is easier said
than done - but our practical method depends upon our willingness to search
out ways of doing just this.
The open-hearted standpoint leads to an enhanced ability to share information,
feelings, images and sensibilities; it has the dual effect of inviting conflict out
into the open, but we shall also discover
a vast unused potential, which
normally lies hidden amongst the ambiguities, mixed messages and missed
connections of our everyday pattern of living. These are powers to connect and
communicate, and also to generate insight that can spill over into all areas of
life: social, artistic, scientific, technical and spiritual. In opening ourselves to
these powers, we are also able to co-opt them into the service of a better
quality of life for everyone.
Amongst the main ingredients of this approach, as I outlined in the opening
section of this work, is the theory of systems. Our primary concern here, is
systems that we are a part of, and systems that are a part of us. The
development of this way of thinking is one of the most important (and one of
the less appreciated) advances in scientific understanding to have come out of
the turmoil of the last century. And our present move - to combine this systems
sensibility with a regard for the full intensity and intricacy of our lived reality - is
going to unlock for us an unexpectedly powerful, practical alchemy.
A Family of Existing Methods.
I see this
already demonstrated by an array of sophisticated and powerful methods which
have been developed over the past several decades. My own project relates
closely to these, as an attempt to reach towards the generic method
- which will
encompass these other methods, and reveal their fundamental kinship. There may well be a host of other practices which belong under this heading,
but the following are the ones which I have personally studied or worked with:-
- The Permaculture approach to plant and animal husbandry.
- Stafford Beer's Viable Systems Model which applies to effective
organisation at community, industrial and government levels.
- Eugene Gendlin's Focusing methodology for psychology, psychotherapy
and innovative thinking as a field in its own right.
- Moshe Feldenkrais' Functional Integration applied to individual musculo-skeletal, kinaesthetic and postural organisation.
Not all of these methods talk about systems awareness. They all embody this
sensibility, however, in the form of a commitment - and an effective leverage for
change - on several levels at once:-
- There is a different way of talking about things (about ourselves, our
situation, and what we are doing - and adapted to the field of application
of the method in question).
- This is also a different appreciation of all these things, and of their inter-relationships.
- This shift also entails a different way of engaging with the world in its
various dimensions: social, practical, artistic or spiritual.
- Finally, it entails a fresh approach to designing and organising which -
considering the collective compass of all these methods together - can be
applied to the whole range of human life activity.
All the methods are significantly more powerful than might otherwise be
expected, because of a synergy between these different levels of change. They
are, in effect, modelling the systems complexity of our lived situation, within the
pattern of their engagement with the field. Hence this powerful alchemy - in
which a pattern of subtle changes is transformed into something altogether
different from the sum of its parts.
With my generic method, to be explored over the next several chapters, I am
trying to carry the same principle a step further. I seek to generalise the
approach and to bring it more explicitly into the domain of lived experience. To
do this, I need to draw strongly upon Stafford Beer's thinking; his is the model
with the most direct bearing on the work we are going to do.
Stafford Beer represents the high point of the emotionally intelligent systems
thinking, which was on the rise in the decades from the Second World War to
the early 1970s. (There has been something of an eclipse of his work and
influence more recently, but I suspect that the cause of this is largely to do the
vagaries of cultural fashion.) The focus of his method is the intelligent
cybernetic modelling of any form(1) of human enterprise. From this complex and
demanding(2) method I am selecting a small number of basic principles, which will
help to ground - and to provide orientation for - the delicate structure which we
are going to build together.
A remarkable feature of our own method, is that it centres so faithfully about
our personal standpoint: our personal commitments, our feelings, desires, and
preferred ways of getting along together. So although it is more general, and in
a sense more abstract, in comparison with the practical methods I listed earlier,
it is also more down-to-earth and personal. To understand this paradox, we
need to know the technical background and reasoning, some of which I shall
present now, and some of which is scattered through other sections of this
study. We need some technical understanding, in any case, in order to
understand how the method works; also to be able to make sense of the
delicate choices we have to make in the course of our practice.
The Story of the Meta-system - Cybernetic Version.
When we move on to exploring the practice itself, it will be in the imagined context of a group of people who approach the
method for the first time, and we shall ask the following essential questions from a variety of different standpoints: who are we, what do we
want, and what shall we do? These questions will be addressed in the unusual context, however, of the following key technical principle: a distinction that we shall keep continuous account of, between the system and the meta-system, within our field of activity.
The term "meta-system" refers to the collection of devices and inducements
which guides the flow of our own behaviour - but also, we will find later that
the same concept can be applied to the control function of any purposive
system. Furthermore the concept is flexible enough - (and this will become
evident as soon as we start to make practical use of it) - that it can straddle the
divide between our individual behaviour, and our collective and interactive
behaviour. With our new practical method we are seeking a new relationship
with this steering function, so that we can understand it better, work with it
more closely, and learn how to revise and upgrade it - in accordance with the
new insights that will emerge from our combined theory and practice.
At first sight, the meta-system seems to be an extremely disparate set of
components: consciousness, subtle recognitions, transient feelings, tentative
conversations, moments of confusion, questions and answers. It is also about
feeling our way along difficult pathways without making a fuss. And about
mixed-up(3) unruly feelings: happy and anxious, terrified and calm, confident and
awkward, tentative and relaxed. An important consequence of us entering into
a more integrated relationship with these multiple components, will be that the
meta-system itself will gradually be able to function in a more integrated
The idea of the meta-system is not altogether new, and there are important
areas of overlap with religious teachings going back to the most ancient
scriptures(4). The cybernetic and the spiritual outlooks have closely related
subject matters: what we might call the higher-level direction of our life. Both
are seeking some understanding of our place in the order of things. Both have a
close relationship with our sense of awe or humility in the face of the
mysterious powers which govern our personal fates and the universe at large.
There is suggestive evidence(5), also, that something closely resembling our
present method was being practised in ancient China (during the era of the
warring states) and in ancient Israel (before, during and after the Babylonian
exile). This was under the banners of the various prophets: Lao Ze, Isaiah,
Jeremiah and Hosea. Our own position will differ from most present-day
religious and spiritual teaching, however, in being a commitment to query(6). Out
of this query we will develop provisional theories, ways of working, and rules of
thumb - but these will be neither prescriptive nor dogmatic, and none of them
are offered under divine sanction.
Our novel frame of reference also propels us towards the discovery of an
essential ambiguity and an overlap, between our highest aspirations
and our deepest, instinctive promptings. Religious or spiritual
commitment very often creates a division between a "higher self" (which the religious person is struggling to make themselves become,
or at least to resemble) and a "lower self" that is looked down
upon, or regarded as animal, or evil, or worse. Our cybernetic
inquiry seeks instead to bring these rival "selves" into closer
apposition - we want to discover what the relationship is, between
the seemingly higher levels of decision-making and everything that is
going on with the powerful mental, social and cultural habits(7)
which are the stuff of our animal organisation. We are seeking to
bring these different levels into one integrated functional outlook.
This is the radical new possibility that is opened up for us by the
science of cybernetics.
In spite of our resolutely experimental attitude, I do not believe there
is any ethical conflict between what we are going to do, and the
best available interpretations of the major world religions. This
becomes an increasingly urgent issue, the more that variant
traditions and cultures come into contact, and make their unavoidable
impacts, with one another. Our new approach helps us to seek out the
potential paths of reconciliation between variant traditions, and to
develop the sense of an emergent
process(8) of ethical life, as we shall constantly be called upon to do as the
pattern of life in every corner of this planet becomes increasingly
multi-cultural. We need to find our commonalities, respect and value
our differences, and maximise the chances for our variant ethical
commitments to dwell creatively alongside one another.
In shaping our new conception of the meta-system, I shall render an
account of this crucially important region of space time from a
variety of angles(9). Our approach will be through a series of different encounters. It begins with formal definitions, coming from
the discipline of cybernetics. This part of the approach is unavoidably technical.
It is not essential for our practical engagement with the meta-system that
follows later, but it provides a very useful scientific grounding for our work;
technophobes amongst my readership are, of course, free to skip the following
The term "meta-system" refers to a dedicated part of a system, having the
function of steering or organising the main system. (The word "cybernetics"
was taken from the Greek gybernos, which means a steersman or a pilot -
related also to our modern word "governor".) So - since this is a functional
concept - our next question has to be: how is this actually done? From my
reading in cybernetics, I pick out three main working elements for the meta-system. These are:
1. The circular movement of information - also known as feedback. We
shall use this word in its strict cybernetic denotation; it means that a
consequence of the system's functioning is being fed back as a control
input to the actual process of that functioning. It is, in other words, a
feedback loop. In more practical terms, in means watching the results of
what we are doing, and modifying our approach accordingly.
2. The possession of a working model of the activity of the different parts of
the system: this means we have some conception of what these
components do, how they do it, and how they interact to give rise to the
3. Subtle adjustments to the functioning of the individual components, and
to the design of the model, so as to enable them to maintain - or improve
- their way of working together.
We note that the meta-system is one of the components - it is one part of the
system which it is steering or organising, but it is set apart from the other
components by the very fact of its unique function.
This is a sufficient, if bare account of what a meta-system is, in terms that lend
themselves to the control engineering and the management services which Beer
describes in his work. Our task now(10) is to translate these abstract, formal
principles into a form we can recognize as the same world that we are grappling
with here on the ground.- in other words the everyday landscape of our personal
As a step towards this, we shall consider an example of how the meta-system
operates, from the domain of animal and human biology(11). We shall look at the
behaviour of the reproductive unit - the functioning system that is known as the
The Story of the Meta-system - Biological Version.
The story begins, as we know, with the encounter of the prospective lovers.
They may be complete strangers, or they may have known one another for
some time, without suspecting that they are destined to become a pair. We
must also include in our picture - as additional components of the system - the
supporting milieu: a natural habitat, a local ecology/economy, a village, a town,
an extended family and so on. If we think of the male and the female - they
who are about to meet and form a pair-bond - as individual elements of the
system, we should note the following salient points about them.
- They are self-maintaining animals, able to move independently through
the landscape, forage for food, and take care of other essentials of life.
- They have other interests in life, apart from finding one another. This
means there is every likelihood that they will be in the wrong place at the
wrong time, such that the species' plan for their meeting and pair-bonding
may be disrupted.
- There are plenty of other prospective partners, to distract them from the
"right"(13) choice. Again, they may be at the wrong place, at the wrong
time - from the point of view of making good their relationship.
The meta-system which is steering this family unit in the making, then, has the
task of co-ordinating this couple's meeting, their mutual recognition, and their
attempts to co-operate in the project of the Next Generation. It has to steer
them to the right place, in the right frame of mind, at the right time. It goes
without saying, that this is a demanding and complex task, for ourselves and
the vast majority of our close animal relatives.
So, how is it done? We can note first of all, that one of the essential functions
of the meta-system is the accurate exchange of signals between one individual
and the other. There also has to be effective monitoring of the individual
contributions to the project, and the welding of these contributions into a
functional whole. The members of the couple need to have a sense of what
they want, what they are doing, and what the other person wants, and what
the other person is doing.)
This, you will see, relates directly to the basic components of the meta-system
which I outlined earlier. The feedback element is the network of signalling
whereby the male and the female "know where they are" with each other so as
to be able to adjust their actions and reactions accordingly. The model of the
system - which I also referred to above - is the embedded set of archetypes(14)
within the animal organism: of Male and Female, of the stages of the life-cycle,
and the nuances of the interactions between the courting couple - then, in later
stages, archetypal relationships between the father, the mother and their
offspring. The subtle adjustments are brought about by means of a continuous
stream of internal cues of pleasure and pain - within the couple's interactive
behaviour. (Every nuance of the prospective couple's mutual positioning is
registered twice over: as a reading of what is happening, based upon a
comparison with the archetypal model, but also as a felt sense awash with a
subtle palette of multiple hues of pleasure and pain, fine-tuned indications that
something "feels right" or "doesn't feel right". All these cues have significant
influence upon the steering of the relationship.)
Fiction as a Key Meta-system.
This account, of course, is highly stereotyped in comparison with what we
actually meet with, in our experience of life. This is because the individual life
variations drop out of the story(15), as we sketch out the typical pattern of
interactions from a biological or ethological perspective. (The purpose of this
account, as I said, is simply to begin to get a feel for the functioning of the
meta-system.) We need quite a different approach, if we want to get closer to
our personal experience, with its rich variety and our perpetual overflowing
beyond the simple stereotypes. For this we shall begin by considering the
perspective of dramatic art: the stories told to us in novels, films or theatre. Let
us note first of all, how we may find the meta-system coming into sudden,
sharp focus, due the contrivance of the artist. This happens at certain points in
the unfolding of certain novels, or films(16).
It is the moment when the narrative seems to suddenly switch: we were in the
middle of a seemingly "objective" telling of the story, when the writer turns
round and makes a reference to us the audience - or they may even take up
details of the plotting with us. This is a shift from the system in focus, to the
meta-system. There is one such shift towards the end of Jane Austen's Novel
Mansfield Park, and to share this with you I need firstly to set the scene:-
We readers have been witnesses to Fanny and cousin Edmund's tentative
restoring of their tender emotional ties, after Edmund's chastened return to the
family home. Fanny has been in love with Edmund since childhood, always
unsuspected by him. She has suffered cruelly from having to observe at close
quarters - he knows of no reason why he should hide it - his infatuation with the
vivacious, intelligent, but ultimately shallow Mary Crawford. Edmund has just
received his final, shocking demonstration of the true extent of Mary's
mercenary and shallow nature. He now understands that a close tie with her
would have corroded his life and his life's hopes irrecoverably. The question we
are asking is this: will Edmund manage to transfer his romantic affections from
the seductive cosmopolitan, and fix them upon the true mate who has been
yearning for him for most of the duration of the novel? And Jane Austen starts
talking directly to us:-
"I purposely abstain from dates on this occasion, that every one
may be at liberty to fix their own, aware that the cure of
unconquerable passions, and the transfer of unchanging
attachments, must vary much as to time in different people. - I
only intreat every body to believe that exactly at the time when it
was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier,
Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as
anxious to marry Fanny, as Fanny herself could desire"
In other words, Jane Austen is inviting us to participate with her, in "making
up" the story! Edmund and Fanny have temporarily vanished from the scene, as
our author reminds us that these are imaginary figures who stand for the
interplay of personal desire, attachment, disappointment and struggle which any
of us may go through. Jane is also invoking a natural course - as if the process
were almost impersonal. The author does not want to impose her own,
arbitrary, will upon the time course of this - the change must follow the rhythms
and inclinations that nature herself will propose.
And so here is as vivid a shift as we could wish for, from the system in focus
(the world of the story) to a meta-system (the world(17) of collaborative
imagination which writer and reader participate in - and effectively steer -
together). The contrast between the two domains (the system in focus, and the
meta-system) might even be a little too stark for my purposes here. We need to
recognize a much more subtle intertwining between them - the delicate weave
that is far more typical of our real lives(18). The meta-system is not a localised
piece of hardware, but a collection of steering functions and responses, which is
distributed throughout the weft and the warp of the main system.
This is, in part, about the play of conscious awareness. And yet consciousness
is only one aspect of the generation of information about the system, from
within the system's own pattern of operation. So it is the back-and-forth
reference between actuality, word, symbolic reference(19) and feeling, which
pervades our lived reality. That is the heart of what is steering our course,
through the pattern of our lives.
An important element here is the words we speak to one another - and the
words we say to ourselves - but we need to remember that words always do
more than simply say things. Words are human devices of astonishing
versatility - which have enabled us to create a meta-system of immeasurably
greater scope than any other animal on the planet. They frequently depict
imaginary realities, they can symbolise relationships, between people, things or
situations, and they can depict actual states of affairs. Part of the versatility of
language is that words are always spoken in a tone of voice. (If written, they
are couched in some particular literary style, so as to simulate an emotional tone
or mood.) This very tone of voice makes an additional symbolic commentary; it
modifies the meaning of the words, adjusts our relationship to what is said, and
creates a mood - a kind of complicity - between speaker and listener. This is
the effective steering function, it is the meta-system in action, with its
continuous play of "subtle adjustments" upon the motivational sources of our
ongoing behaviour - in this case, our reading of somebody else's meanings.
Such reverberations and cross-currents are of the essence of the meta-system,
and of conscious awareness - but we need to recognize how vastly this all
exceeds the compass of our conscious attention. The push and pull of symbols,
and the subtle emotion that attaches to them, reverberates continuously through
all of our conversations, our consciousness, our sub-conscious motivation, and
our actions. This is the natural habitat, the wild landscape wherein dwells the
meta-system. And, as with a wild animal, we have to learn to track this
creature with stealth - lure it from its hiding-places and find a way to make
friends with it. More of this in the following chapters.
The meta-system is as real as anything else that is studied by scientific
methods. But we have a paradox, that the depiction of the meta-system in
fictional creations gets us closer to "the real thing" than any scientific model
that has hitherto been assembled(20). This is partly because - in order to be
credible to its reader - the novel has to re-create the wild landscape of symbolic
reference, as an essential background to the story. A novel is a naturalistic
account of the meta-system in its seamless operation, through situation,
through character and plot. I quoted an instance of Jane Austen's abrupt
switch into a meta-language, but throughout the rest of her prose we can sense
all these scintillating cross-currents at play, which I have just been speaking of.
Her narrative is steeped in ironic commentary between the lines - every novel is
a masterpiece of implied tone of voice, implied relationship, implied mood, all
skilfully implanted within the written sentences. She is one of the great artists
of meta-language and meta-system.
The wit, the clarity and the accuracy with which she brings this off is, in my
view, a large part of the reason for Jane Austen's enduring appeal to a wide and
ever-renewed readership(21). Critics may speak of "the universality" of her
appeal. I think that the universal in question is her skilful deployment of the
subtleties of the meta-system - the web of subtleties in which all of us
participate, whether we know how to speak it in words or not.
I think there are personal and historical reasons for Jane Austen's special status
in this regard. She was writing at the end of a long period of gradual socio-cultural evolution, and close to the time of the Revolutionary Wars and the
Industrial Revolution. Seismic waves from that time continue to shatter, and to
re-shatter, the more enduring cultural forms of human life. Jane Austen lived
within the richly incoherent cultural force-field of those newly turbulent times.
One of the cardinal signs of an incoherent cultural force-field is that conflicting
sets of values are operating in competition with one another. This is what we
see, in every one Austen's novels. On the one hand, there are the pressures of
cultural conformity and the clawing for status within a given social hierarchy.
And there is, on the other hand, an aspiration for a higher, more honest love,
caring and respect between human beings. These two sets of ethical values
are, in effect, two distinct levels of meta-system. The rich, humorous play of
irony in Jane Austen derives in large part from the cross-talk between these two
Understanding this, we are in possession of powerful guide-lines for the flexible,
provisional meta-system which will be the work-in-progress of our new, practical
approach. We, too, will aspire to a higher level of personal integrity in our
dealings with one another. Yet we shall seek also to find some honest
acceptance of ourselves in respect of the powerful counter-forces which operate
within our very heart. Both levels of meta-system need to be allowed to come
into focus - and with no blame for the contradictions and lapses of integrity
which are bound to emerge in the process. The details of this work need to be
discovered and practised by concrete groups of people - in a form which we
shall explore here, in subsequent chapters.
Notes to Chapter P1
1. In Diagnosing the System for Organisations (1985) Beer declares that the approach is relevant: "whether you are interested
in a firm, an international conglomerate, a social service, a consortium of like-minded people, a government department, or a
national economy." One of Beer's distinctions was to be invited as a consultant to the entire economy of Chile, under the only
Marxist government to be democratically elected in the history of the world. Between the years 1971 and 1973 he devoted his
main professional energy to this project. Following the CIA-inspired military coup and subsequent imposition of a military state
under General Pinochet, Beer was invited to return and provide his services for the new regime - which request I am given to
understand he politely declined.
2. A proper understanding of Beer's approach requires an apprenticeship to the cybernetics and underlying mathematics. This
would also need to be combined with practice in the detailed modelling of some real-world enterprises. As a step towards the
needful study, I refer interested readers to the bibliography attached to this work
3. Many people find such odd combinations of feeling worrisome, a sign of "abnormality" and requiring some expert explanation.
We, on the contrary, will accept them as normal aspects of a functioning meta-system; accepting them as straightforward data,
we are saved the fruitless task of explanation and can focus on learning to make the best possible response to them when they
4. The major work in which Beer introduces the meta-system is Decision and Control (1966). In it, he places epigraphs taken
from a broad sweep of ancient texts, so as to set the mood of the individual chapters. These quotations make it clear that
humans have been thinking around these various concepts, from at least the beginning of recorded history. The most ancient
of those quoted is in some ways the most sophisticated; certainly it is the most "cybernetic":-
In reality, action is entirely the outcome of all the modes of nature's attributes; moreover only he
whose intellect is deluded by egotism is so ignorant that he presumes 'I am doing this'.
THE LORD KRISHNA in the Bhagavad-Gita (circa 3000 B.C.)
5. LAFARGUE, M. (1992) The Tao of the Tao Te Ching. and AVNON, D. (1998) Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue.
6. The term query was coined - in the usage I am adopting - by Justus Buchler to cover something more than "enquiry", in that
it can include artistic endeavour, ritual, exploratory action, and philosophical and religious speculation. It is the genus of which
"enquiry" is the species, and is useful in carrying us beyond the restrictive, and sometimes over-rationalistic tendencies of the
latter term. See BUCHLER (1955)
7. The typical stance of many a religious or spiritual discipline, is to make our instinctive habitswrong. They may be the work of the Devil, or of blind cultural conditioning, or of some rapacious and cunning Ego. We, on the contrary, want to create the conditions for an open-heartednegotiation between our various instinctive habits, in company with whatever higher aspirations we may espouse. See also the Section E-1: Apes, Angels and Outlaws.
8. The same theme will emerge in my treatment of "the evolutionary perspective" in Section E-1: Apes, Angels and Outlaws.
9. This has a strong resonance for me, with the several approaches made by the blind discoverers of The Elephant (in an
ancient Buddhist story). Different discoverers make separate acquaintance with a leg (identified as a tree); the tail (identified as
a creeper); the trunk (identified as a snake); and a tusk (identified as a spear). Thus the whole incredible creature becomes
progressively manifest to these open-minded but sightless explorers - on condition they stop arguing with each other and try
genuinely to reach towards the common object of their several researches.
10. There is a separate discussion, which I place in an appendix, about the metaphysics and epistemology of the meta-system.
This is to address the important issues and questions: who or what is it, that decides what counts as a "system", what is the basis
on which we discern what the system is "doing" and how do its boundaries come to be defined (i.e. where does the system begin
and end). In relation to that last question, there are two broad possibilities: 1. that we - the observer - define the boundary, on
the basis of our own interest in, and our interactions with, the system at hand; or 2. the system itself has an internal logic which
is capable of defining its boundaries for itself. These are discussions that must be had - but they would seriously distract from
the flow of our argument in the present stage of our exploration.
11. The enormous power and flexibility of these cybernetic principles, comes from their relevance to every level where there is
meta-systemic control. We shall see this demonstrated, in other parts of this study, at the level of cell biology, at the level of
higher-level animal co-ordination, and at the level of our highest human aspirations.
10. I have tried to keep this account general enough, that it can stand in for the life of a wide range of mammals and birds -
in a rough-and-ready sort of way; I have also had an eye, of course, to the human connotations of it all. Hence words like "town"
and "village". I am also aware that my account has strong parallels with innumerable romantic comedy films. It take this to mean
that the genre of romantic comedy addresses the fundamental archetypes of human courting behaviour (which includes both
patterns of implementation and patterns of thwarting) - and plays with them in ways that usually entertain, but that provoke or
inform as a very common side-effect.
11. Is there a "right" choice? Are some couples "meant for" one another? The philosopher Schopenhauer wanted us to believe
that Nature selects "the right pair" for her own purposes - of perpetuating the race - regardless of the misery and pain which the
couple will surely bring to one another's personal lives. His principle is: Nature knows what she wants, and she does not care
whether we are happy or not. Jane Austen - who is shortly going to enter into our discussions - takes it for granted that there
is a "happy union" which her story-line always manages to steer the "right partners" towards. Sophisticates of the Twentieth
Century were often scornful of this attitude - which they liked to equate with Hollywood and candy-floss. They would argue that
there was no "right partner" for anyone on the planet - our idea of the right partner, or soul-mate, was just a romantic delusion.
For our purposes, we may accept that from the community's point of view some pair-bonds are significantly better than others,
either because the marital harmony is good for the children emerging out of this family, or because the sparks that fly help to
nurture the creative powers of the parties to the marriage (if, by chance, one or both parties is a creative artist). In support of
this, it is surely significant how much we care (when watching a film or reading a novel within which relationships are being made
or broken), whether the right couples come together and live happily ever after.
14. We shall meet with the concept of archetype at many different locations in this study. The most detailed treatment is at the "Apes, Angels and Outlaws" main page.
I am incorporating this concept into the cybernetic framework of the present argument, but it also has a central place in my
analysis of bio-social and cultural evolution. This is about what the archetype does - in other words, the function that it fulfils,
within an essentially cybernetic context. This is not the thing that sociologists call an ideal type, nor is it a blueprint or template
that determines behaviour in some prescriptive or mechanical way. The archetype, functioning according to our cybernetic model,
is the plan that every meta-system must incorporate - a plan that is continuously updated and modified in real time. It operates
in a continuous tension and interplay with the actual situation that is unfolding. (Its function is to orient, not to prescribe.) Since
this is a strictly functional concept - and not a psychological one - this is a major departure from previous usage, notably in
C.G.Jung in such works as The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Psychology and Alchemy and others. In the section entitled "Biocultural" we explore the question in detail. We shall make a distinction between bio-social and cultural levels of organisation, and we will also discover a parallel
distinction between archetypes: bio-social archetypes are relatively unchanging whereas cultural archetypes are continuously
modified and updated in real time, to bring currently active needs into alignment with the present situation.
15. This account also leaves out the crucial dimension of evolution - which is the life context in which every individual life makes
its unique contribution, regardless of whether or not it conforms to the standard archetypal pattern. See chapter E-1: Apes,
Angels and Outlaws: the evolutionary perspective.Also ROTH, M.(1984) pp75-103
16. The earliest filmed example I know, is Helzapoppin' (@@@) The knowing switch to the meta-system becomes a stock in
trade, however, from the beginning of the French New Wave of the 1950s - eventually to become a post-modern cliché. There
are also the transitional cases: the films noirs of the 1940s which convey a knowing self-consciousness about themselves as film
even while they draw us into the bleak atmosphere of the world of the story.
17. With breath-taking elegance, Jane Austen succeeds in resonating her reference to the meta-system of the author's and
readers' creative process with the other meta-system - that of the hidden forces which operates at one remove from the visibly
unfolding drama of our lives. Such skill - in my view - puts her on the level of the greatest of the world's philosophers and
18. This whole area merits a much more detailed exploration, which we pursue in a parallel section of this work entitled The
Landscape: Fact, Feeling and Action.
19. We shall take up the question of symbolic reference again, and in more detail, in chapter S-3: Fact, Feeling and Action as
a Living System
20. In a collection of deeply insightful essays, entitled Love's Knowledge, Martha Nussbaum illustrates in detail how the worlds
of fiction enable us to explore and grapple with subtleties of the real world which philosophy (and science) unaided cannot
manage to capture. See NUSSBAUM M. (@@@) Also RICOEUR, P. @@@
21. It does not undermine the present argument, that virtually none of Jane Austen's readership has ever heard of "the meta-system". We can think of my account of the meta-system as one way of explaining what it is about Jane Austen, that rings such
powerful bells with so many readers. I should also acknowledge here two useful studies, closely related to what I am arguing
here, that have been a powerful help in developing my understanding of what Jane Austen is doing. See TAVE(1973) and
© all content: copyright reserved, Michael Roth, January 2004