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Union of the Whys

Comprehending Questing in the Union of the Whys

"beyond why", "prior to why" and the "end of questions"

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See also resource documents; See also significance of web domain

Quest for questions "beyond why" or "prior to why"?

Kim Veltman (Questions and Choices, 1996) provides a valuable comparison of the progressive emergence of different combinations of WH-questions, and their relation to the disciplines -- from Aristotle, through medieval thinking and John Stuart Mills, to modern universities. This is the basis for his System for Universal Media Searching (SUMS), a systematic tool for finding, retrieving and organizing material on the internet, linking the users own local collection of facts with the external electronic universe. In relation to these questions, SUMS has ten basic entry points: access, learning, levels, media, quality, quantity, questions, space, time, tools

Development, whether ontogenetic or phylogenetic, might be understood in terms of progressive capacity to formulate and respond to different types of WH-questions. For example, there is an extensive literature on the "acquisition order" of morphemes notably in describing second language question stages for learners of English and specifically in terms of WH-questions (cf Eun-Young Kwon. The “Natural Order” of Morpheme Acquisition: A Historical Survey and Discussion of Three Putative Determinants, 2005) dating from studies by Manfred Pienemann (1985).

Whilst the Union of the Whys may indeed derive its dynamic from the progressve reformulation and cross-fertilization of why-questions, its capacity for self-reflection would clearly oblige it to ask why it is locked into that pattern. Are there indeed questions of a type "beyond why" or "prior to why" in a developmental sense, and how are they to be recognized? Or are why-questions to be understood as the ultimate type of question in any acquisition order?

What is a question?

Any such question raises the philosophical issue of "what is a question" -- of which WH-questions may merely be a subset. There would appear to be a relatively meagre literature on the question (cf Kevin H. Knuth. What is a Question? 2002; F Cohen. What is a question?, 1929). In commenting on Ludwig Wittgenstein's critical view of such a question as "language games" (in: Philosophical Investigations, Aphorism 24), Lois Shawver asks whether it "betrays a concern with the way things look on the page, or sound in the voice, and not a concern with the deep structure, that is, the way the language is working and having an impact on what is happening" (see also Duncan Richter, What Use Are Wittgenstein’s Language-Games?, 2004).

In his explorations of holistic mathematics, Peter Collins (in a personal communication) opens up the challenge with the following:

What I have found quite remarkable (and with which I am still attempting to come to terms with the profound implications) is that associated with every dimension ≠ 1 is a unique logical system that deals with WH-questions in a distinct manner. In other words potentially out there (and in here mentally) we have an infinite number of mathematical systems based on distinctive logical metaparadigms (represented by dimensions). However conventional mathematics has been constructed on just one of these (i.e. where the interpretative dimension is 1)....

Thus in linear terms -- where interpretation is absolute -- both positive and negative positions exclude each other. Thus for example a proposition such as the Riemann Hypothesis must be either true or false represents such linear thinking. However if we attempt to interpret relationships in true (unreduced) two-dimensional terms then we use an opposite both/and logic where positive and negative polarities are combined. In other words the metaparadigm for (unreduced) two-dimensional understanding is based on the complementarity of real (i.e. conscious) opposites.

Thus in this more dynamic understanding, all propositions are both true and false with a merely relative truth value (depending on arbitrary initial conditions). Thus in terms of the deeper “why”, such propositions are truly open-ended with each answer (with a merely relative truth value) simultaneously posing another question (that can again only be answered in relative terms).

Indeed one could say that ultimate truth (i.e. God, Spirit etc.) is the pure question that is its own ineffable answer. This is the faith that can remove mountains i.e. the firm conviction that whatever question is asked (in pure faith) must thereby be answered.

"Beyond why" via koans

One classical approach to "beyond why" is the use of the Zen koan (or kong-an in Chinese) to break the conventional mindset conditioning the relationship between question and answer -- and questioner and answerer. This is exemplified by the classical challenge of understanding the "sound of one hand clapping" [cf Zen Koans: transcending duality]. Mu (in Japanese), Wu/Mou (in Chinese) is a word which can be roughly translated as "without" or "have not" and is typically used as a prefix to imply the absence of something. It features in the jargon of computer hacker culture as a response to logical inadequacies [more].

Of more relevance here, is its use as a response to certain koans and other questions in Zen Buddhism, intending to indicate that the question itself is wrong [more]. It is effectively a way of un-asking questions by providing an anti-answer [more]. As the deliberate cultivation of ambiguity, this has recognized value in the training of military special forces (cf Anna Simons, How Ambiguity Results in Excellence: the role of hierarchy and reputation in U.S. Army Special Forces Human Organization, Spring 1998).

Impossible questions

Another approach is that relating to "impossible questions", "unanswerable questions", "insoluble questions" (in contrast with "unsolved problems"), the "unknowable" and limitations to human knowing:

Unrecognized concepts

Adam Jacot de Boinod (The Meaning of Tingo, 2005) -- basing his approach on 154 languages, following that of Howard Rheinhold (They Have a Word for It: a lighthearted lexicon of untranslatable words and phrases, 1988) -- identified words and concepts for which there is no obvious equivalent in a language such as English. This suggests the possibility that some languages may have forms of question that are indeed "beyond why". An indicative example is the use of nja in Swedish. Alternatively an artificial language might be created to explore this possibility and its implications.

Possibility of new conceptual operators: example of "po"

A pointer in this direction is provided by the early, well-articulated, proposal by Edward de Bono (Po: Beyond Yes and No, 1972) for a new word "po" as a device for changing ways of thinking: a method for approaching problems in a new and more creative way, as discussed elsewhere (cf.Categorical Straightjackets PO: A suggestion for a de-patterning device for international organization descriptions, 1974). It is seen as a means of legitimately placing a "creative" question mark against the categories and category-systems which have to be used in the grammatically correct sentences required for effective communication. "Po" is not a neologism in the conventional sense since all neologisms tend to be descriptors. The proposed word would have a status similar to the logical operators AND, NOT, OR, etc which are each the basis for an important conceptual operation between categories. Its use has been discussed in relation to trying out ideas in mathematics:

For many years mathematicians have tended to use the words 'Let' and 'Consider' to introduce ideas for examination. MATHS also encourages creative (or lateral) thinking. At any time an idea can be documented and experimented with - as long as it is in an enclosed context. Edward de Bono's work suggests there is need for a new word that frees the mind to examine the ideas without pre-judging them. He suggested "Po". "Po" invites the reader (or listener) to suspend judgment of an idea for a time. It means that the idea is thought about without evaluating it as true or false.

Significantly the string "po" is found in "hypothesis", "suppose", "posit", "proposition" which indicates something of the way it is intended to work. It is also part of "poetry" - indicating that an idea can be thought about for aesthetic as well as pragmatic reasons. In MATHS the word 'Po' is followed by a set of (braced) documentation which includes the assumptions and derives the consequences. After the end of the argument a conclusion can be drawn from the complete process. Edward de Bono had no intent for "Po" to be part of a formal language, but by the lateral move of trying it out this author concludes that it works better than other words.[more]

Presumably any such "higher order" question would be based on a higher degree of self-reflexivity and recursiveness -- perhaps to some degree cognitively isomorphic with the curving surfaces of catastrophe theory (or even the space-time "curling" of the more fundamental dimensions of string theory). It would be a greater challenge to any sense of identity and coherence since it implies a degree of identity with (or embodiment of) the question, the content and the potential answer -- in the spirit of enactivism. But as such it might be of greater value to the reframing of strategic issues such as the meaning of sustainable development and quality of life.

"Po" clearly points to a way of transcending conventional dualities, notably in relation to question and answer -- although its use is necessarily precluded in approaches to the Boolean satisfiability problem (SAT) in information retrieval. There is even less reason to consider its relevance to the primordial cognitive creativity of the "Big Bang". In this connection, given Edward de Bono's predilection for humour ("as the most significant behaviour of the human mind"), his choice of the term "po" may also have been intended to have fruitful scatological associations to the anatomy of the fundament and its defecatory process [see Note].

Use of "po" might then be considered valuable in reflection on any fundamental reframing of recycling. In this sense, reframing Michio Kaku's question as to whether the "end is in sight", what might become apparent through such a new form of "higher order" question is the tail of the Ourobouros -- a cross-cultural, ancient symbol depicting a snake or dragon swallowing its own tail, constantly creating itself and forming a circle. If Buddha can indeed be understood as "shitstick" by Zen masters (as noted above), perhaps the universe, as commonly known to humanity, could then be understood as an instance of divine flatulence -- the "Big Bang" as a momentary lapse of anal retention.

This understanding contrasts with that exemplified by many current framings of future strategy (cf Backside to the Future: coherence and conflation of dominant strategic metaphors, 2003) -- and with epistemological perspectives exemplified by a dog energetically chasing its tail, as the "end in sight".

Reframing the "end of questing": the question at the end of the quest

There are other questionable "ends". These include Francis Fukuyama's controversial The End of History and the Last Man (1992) and the "end of individuation" explored by psychoanalyst Dolores Brien (Today’s Magnum Opus of the Soul, 1999) in commenting critically on the work of Wolfgang Giegerich (1996).

The atemporal meaning to be fruitfully associated with the cognitive "end" of the questing -- at the origin of the Council of the Whys -- is perhaps best exemplified by the much-quoted stanza of T S Eliot (in Little Gidding, 1942):

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

The Union of the Whys may therefore be best understood as based on circular "why-rings" of different orientation to one another, but nevertheless interlocking to form a (hyper)sphere -- as illustrated by the following images discussed elsewhere (Ensuring Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the "martial arts" in response to strategic threats, 2005; Spherical configuration of interlocking roundtables: Internet enhancement of global self-organization through patterns of dialogue, 1998 ). It is this circular dynamic that is fundamental to dynamic "union" -- as a verb -- in the Union of the Whys.

As a pattern of communication , these forms might be understood as configured around some kind of strange cognitive attractor (cf Human Values as Strange Attractors: Coevolution of classes of governance principles, 1993). This could be understood in terms of the work of Ron Atkin on the use of simplicial complexes to analyze connectivity in social systems and the challenges of its comprehension (Combinatorial Connectivities in Social Systems: An Application of Simplicial Complex Structures to the Study of Large Organizations, 1977) [more].

Schematics illustrating a configuration of kairotic moments
at the intersection of pathways in chronological time
Union of Intelligible Associations:
remembering dynamic identity through a dodecameral mind
, 2005 [images]


By analogy to the coiled wiring of dynamos and electric motors, it is the ability of these "why-rings" to channel the movement of (meditative) attention which is the basis of the ability of the Union of the Whys to engender energy and to generate motivation respectively. The (hyper)sphere formed by the interlocked "why-rings" may also be understood as the archetypal container, or "alchemical vessel", within which transformative processes take place. As with the design and operation of the "magnetic bottle" of a nuclear fusion reactor, it is the synergistic electromagnetic effects of the pattern of wiring that ensures that plasma is usefully contained as a source of fusion power, rather than "quenched" by contact with the material walls of the container. In a real sense therefore, the many calls for "new thinking" and "rethinking" could be understood as a need for "re-why-ring" (or "re-why-nding").

In terms of meditative disciplines, failure to sustain a sense of wholeness or harmony (the Chinese understanding of Wa), through "quenching" by material preoccupations, is a momentary lapse of attention that engenders the fragmentated experience of life. Such quenching is then a human form of cognitive flatulence -- emitted through the many lesser circles around the surface of the (hyper)sphere. These lesser circles are reminiscent of the "fish-scale model" (cf D T Campbell. Ethnocentrism of disciplines and the fish-scale model of omniscience, 1969) currently proposed as one of the models of interdisciplinarity.

Interrelating why-rings

As it is to be understood in the present time, the Union of the Whys might be expected to be constantly experimenting (to the point of distraction) with the art and science of balancing the effects of the "why-rings" to achieve a container capable of sustainable transformative operation -- rather than occasional peak experiences. In a fundamental sense, this is paralleled by the current work in MagnetoElectroHydrodynamics (or ElectroMagnetoHydrodynamics) on the design of the fusion reactors that are potentially so vital as a future energy source for the planet (cf ITER, the international tokamak magnetic confinement fusion experiment). However, this complex and very costly experiment, comprehensible only to the few, is itself paralleled by the daily experimentation of everyone in some measure -- in endeavouring to configure a meaningful, sustainable life characterized by thrival rather than survival.

Example of tensegrity structure, illustrating rigid polarities with flexible associative links
(click image for animated version with VRML browser)
[and see others by Bob Burkhardt]

Embodying polarities

The challenge of thinking in terms of the wholes implied by the "why-rings", and the (hyper)sphere that they together form, necessarily obliges people to work with the more comprehensible polarities -- usually to the exclusion of any more integrative understanding. These polarities can however be configured to provide an approximation to such forms -- as is characteristic of the linear approximations to a curve in calculus. Tensegrity cognitive organization (discussed above) is a necessity when (circular or spherical) wholes can only be sustained by polarized thinking -- but only provided the polarities can be configured associatively to imply such sphericity. In the design of the magnetic bottle of a fusion reactor, such polarities might be understood as the judiciously disposed magnets, collectively generating the field to contain the plasma. Of great interest is the consequence of any associative links between these polarities pulling the latter into a succession of unbalanced configurations -- implying an equivalent to operation of "limbs"..

As the person who has done most to clarify the significance of tensegrity structures, R Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975-79), it is unfortunate that visualization technology did not make it possible for him to clarify to a greater degree the dynamics of any tensegrity structures. The text description is of limited assistance in facilitating comprehension -- as with a verbal description of a spiral staircase. It is possible that an intuitive sense of the dynamics of the Council of the Whys could be provided by an appropriate visual animation having the following characteristics (without catering to the other senses and forms of intelligence) :

  • transformations between Platonic, Archimedean and other polyhedra, as optional templates of the energy exchanges of tensegrity structures (as the number of categories increases or decreases according to Table 1) [see images and Java3D programs by Robert Gray: Jitterbug Defined Polyhedra: the shape and dynamics of space, 2001; 120 Polyhedron Investigation Program, 2000; Interactive Polyhedron Display Program, 1999; see also a range of models by Bob Burkhardt]

  • dynamic distortions of the tensegrity structures as a result of the relative increase or decrease in tension in the associative links between particular polarities in a given tensegrity. This possibility is exemplified in two dimensions by the interactive web technology used in sodaconstructor whereby the strength of associative links can be selectively strengthened or weakened as "muscles" -- and the polarities may then function like "limbs".

Beyond the duality implied by such metaphors of containment, openness and closure -- and the associated challenges of energy loss -- the ultimate challenge for the Council of the Whys is to embody what has been described in Zen Buddhism as The Gateless Gate or "mindlessnessness" (cf Paul J. Griffiths, On Being Mindless: Buddhist meditation and the mind-body problem, 1999; State of No-thought or No-Mind). In Taoism it is understood as an "empty vessel" (cf The Empty Vessel: A Journal of Contemporary Taoism). In this sense an empty spherical configuration, such as the above tensegrity, can be fruitfully understood in terms of the classic quote from the Tao Te Ching:

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.