Posts Tagged ‘Social sciences’

“Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change” second chapter written by Dwight Read, David Lane and Sander van der Leeuw charts the history of human tool making as a fundamental innovation.  Noting the span of some 200,000 years, the authors expediently detail the challenge of human beings had to conceptually manage their material world.  Many of us know of paleolithic tool making but the chapter provides an appreciation for its “grinding” emergence.  The ability to create the tools and “… the ‘invention explosion’ of the Neolithic is related to their conceptual abilities to conceive of space in four nested dimensions across a wide range of spatial scales (from the individual fiber or grain to the landscape), to separate a surface from the volume it encloses, to use different topologies, to distinguish and relate time and space, to distinguish between different cause and effect, and to plan, etc.” (97)  In essence human beings gained a bootstrapping process that allowed them to gain an edge over other species.

Bootstrapping is defined in five steps

  1. a trial and error process that summarizes observations and experiences in an efficient manner.
  2. as more dimensions are available there is the ability to ask more questions
  3. a capacity of abstraction  allows for greater connections between different circumstances and domains of knowledge
  4. individuals who are exercised in this way have an increased “problem space” when compared to others and the increase “problem space” and the curiosity within it gives these individuals an advantage over other individuals and non-humans.
  5. “….each solution brings its own unexpected challenge, requires more problem-solving, and a more costly conceptual and material infrastructure in which to survive” (98)

The authors then follow the evolution from toolmaking to the more sociological development of urban environments and towns.   It is here that they distinguish themselves from the establishment on what drives the urban development.  Typically urban development is understood as dependent upon “a food surplus so that those ‘in power’ would not have to provide for their own subsistence and could harness some of the population at least part of the time to invest in collective works” (100)   To the contrary, the authors argue that urban societies coagulate because of “the problem-solving control loop” that conserves energy.  Such a control loop is described in the bootstrapping steps above.    (In order to substantiate this, they note that matter and energy are subject to the law of conservation but the flow of information is not subject to this and therefore is a more likely driver of urban development.  Energy and matter are more likely constraints for sociological organization).  While it too 200,000 years to master matter….human beings conceptual work related to information only took 8,000 years to conserve energy.

At this point, I would like to recognize the church as a facet of urban development.  And rest upon the work of the authors that asserts matter and energy as constraints but the flow of information as a driver in our development.  Very often in the church, we are trying to reproduce our population through an accumulation of members who are enculturated by tradition, denomination, context.   Our best intentions are masked by our own collusion with the Darwinian model wherein we equate reproduction and imitation of behavior as adequate enculturation and then we hope for vitality.

If we trust what our author’s excruciating work regarding matter, energy and bootstrapping, what we must conclude is that organized life does not derive vitality from imitation and reproduction, we derive vitality from the emergence of problems and the conceptual exercise to approach those problems with both life experience and openness to novelty.  If congregations are looking for vitality programs and ministry would not be efforts to repeat and reproduce (how guilty I am of this!).  Rather we might be looking for our most tenacious problems of politics, sociology, psychology and be a junction box for the flow of information (members and nonmembers alike), conserving energy while contributing to innovation.  Although it would not be enough, I might just be a  bootstrap that Jesus could endorse.


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As we all know, the human brain is the center of the central nervous system and the receiver of information from our senses.  The brain begins the process of perception.  The human brain shares commonality with the brains of other creatures while displaying specific differences regarding language and communication.  Brain research is dynamic area of study as we strive to learn about human development and disease.   While we are learning a great deal about the brain as the premier organ of the human body, it merges with what we call the mind.  The mind is much more of a mystery.

People of faith are challenged to live fully in simultaneous dimensions of the brain and mind.  Our relationships and daily duties invite us to respect our  embodiment.  While our intuition, our limited imagination, our emerging intelligence, and our wonderment about the divine invite us to commit ourselves to a  spiritual dimension as well.  We are essentially stretched.   While the brain and mind are not easily separated and shouldn’t be.  The brain does  represent the embodiment end of the human continuum and the mind might represent the more intuitive/spiritual end of the human continuum.

Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being defines the mind as “a process that regulates the flow of energy and information.  Our human mind is both embodied – it involves a flow of energy and information that occurs within the body, including the brain – and relational, the dimension of the mind that involves the flow of energy and information occurring between people…” (5)

Religion has been disparaged by some as a sort of opiate for masses of people.  But it does not have to be so.  Religion at its best stimulates / agitates the brain circuitry of the human being toward a greater mindfulness.  Religion can contribute to mindfulness that enriches and challenges the human being to radically faithful behavior.  Mindfulness might be particularly stimulated by the larger story that religion offers to the individual life.  For Christians the story of Jesus is the larger narrative.

As Lent approaches, I will be inviting the people of First Presbyterian in Osawatomie to consider the larger story of Jesus and give up the distance between their brain and their mind!  If you are in Kansas….hope you will join us!

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Texting on a keyboard phone

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Texting is a challenge to the human experience.  It challenges us to be articulate without our full communication arsenal at our disposal.  It challenges us to be brief and agile in our response time.  Texting challenges us to feel connected and yet be balanced in our solitude.  The High School Sunday School class at First Presbyterian Church of Osawatomie is studying texting in detail over the next four weeks.  This week, they will consider texting and the body. 

This subject is important because the state of our body influences our ability to communicate and text well and faithfully.  The subject is also important because the mechanics of texting makes great demands on our body.  The interdependence of the body and technology is remarkable.  Texting is just another part of the reality that we human beings are both organic and mechanistic.  Replaced knees, hearing aids, pacemakers, eyeglasses were earlier ways we enhanced our body joining it to technology.  Such a partnership, we found, could greatly enrich life.  When our body was aided, our psyches were released and more open to experiencing life.    

As a person of the Christian faith, scripture and tradition instruct me that my body was the design of the Ultimate Source of Creativity, God.  The hand-held device by which I text is a secondary creation even as it is full of wonder.  So, when I think about this partnership and how to manage it, I want to draw on the wisdom of the primary creation in order to guide my behavior and decisions.  In other words, using these fundamental observations regarding God’s design of the human body, how shall I be a person who texts faithfully?  

What shall we say of the body and the technology of texting?  We might begin by saying that our body is itself, a messaging system.  The body is hardwired, chemically triggered and a cautious receptor of the external environment.

 The body is hardwired in countless ways but perhaps the most fundamental of connections would be the synapse within our nervous system.   The synapses are both chemical and electric and are the means by which neurons (cells with a message) make their way to target cells that need their message.   Our body and brain’s hardwiring needs excellent nutrition in order to stay functional.   

So too, our texting needs to be of a quality that it enriches and nourishes other people’s lives and potential.  Of course there will be lots of pragmatic texts but I have also heard of texting that is sent in order to remind human beings  of their potential and their contributions.  Like food for thought to the brain, texting can empower the living of other human beings.

The body is chemically triggered in countless ways, but  a chemical of particular interest of the human being is the chemical serotonin.  This chemical performs a great many functions within the body which includes the working of all sorts of muscles.  Properly balanced, serotonin  allows for experience of happiness and satisfaction.  Out of balance and the human being can suffer from depression.  It is thought that protein rich diet, B-6 and daily exercise a healthy amount of serotonin in the body.   

Texting can trigger a chemical response within the human being.  Texts can trigger, excite, alarm us.  Because texting increases the amount of information that comes our way and affects the chemical reactions within our body, the wisdom of balance as discovered in research on serotonin becomes an important clue in texting faithfully.   We must balance anxiety with a calm responsiveness.  Not unlike Jesus stilling the storm for worried disciples.  We must balance alarm with a clarity of mind and strategic response.  Not unlike Jesus’ response when he is arrested in Gethsemane.  We must balance our anger or fear with a trust and confidence.  Jesus is remembered as saying,  “Forgive them for they know not what they do” from the cross.  If we do this…communication will less likely go haywire and relationships strengthened and individuals more resilient.

The body is a receptor of external information without being completely vulnerable to the exterior world.  Of course, our skin serves this most basic function.  It is sensitive to the outside world while simultaneously filtering and protecting the body from infectious and hazardous elements.  The skin can receive hydration gratefully one minute and detect an infection that needs to be fought off in the next.  Decisions, decisions.  So that even when our phone receives text messages, it is important to remember that we are not our phone.  We do not have to take in the messages that are received.  We can make decisions  to receive or reject all for the welfare and strength of our human pilgrimage.

So, somewhat playfully, this week we will offer our teens three body basic rules for texting:

1.  HARD WIRED RULE – I will remember my body does get tired and depleted.  When I am depleted and tired, I am not at my best to communicate in a faithful way.  I will let my phone charge while I take in lots of vitamins, minerals and rest.

2.  CHEMICAL RULE – I will remember that balance is the key to feeling good.  I will not overindulge in gossip, negativity or worry when I text.  Occasionally, I will move beyond passive texting and offer “food for thought” to those I love and care about.

3.  SKIN DEEP RULE – I will remember that I can receive information without taking it all to my innermost places of mind and heart.  When I am confused by others communication, I will take time to think before I vent to another person or fire off a quick response.  When I receive hurtful information, I will manage it before it makes its way too far into my heart and mind.   When I receive important information that is painful, I will find a way to take it into my system so that I am stronger and more resilient. 

Perhaps with such rules, we will feel less like triggered cyborgs driven by our devices and more like thoughtful human beings whose faith will be known despite any hex in the text.

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While process theology has a technical language all its own.   It is  a language worth learning because of its applicability to every day circumstances.  For example, an otherwise well mannered boy on the verge of becoming a teenager has an afternoon meltdown when his parents ask him if he has completed his chores.  Not only has he not completed his chores, he is ranting about how little freedom he has and how suspicious his parents are of him.  In order to communicate all these things, he employs a sarcastic tone and tears.  How could this otherwise discouraging and seemingly futile situation be understood as a hopeful one?    With the help of process theology.  First a brief definition of terms:

  1. Enjoyment, in process thought, describes the process of realizing that each individual is one among many and that individuals arise uniquely out of the many.  Enjoyment is not so much associated with pleasure as it is with a sense of becoming in the world.
  2. Intensity is dependant upon complexity where a variety of contrasting things are brought together into a moment or experience.
  3. Harmony is characterized by individuals or circumstances that do not clash strongly with our previous experiences or understandings.
  4. Creative self determination is the process by which individuals participate in creating themselves out the material that has been given to it in the past. 

So, on the verge of adulthood, a young man, in order to enjoy himself more fully, challenges the harmony of his household.  He constructs some intensity through tears and sarcasm in order to say to the world “hey, I am not just along for the ride!  I do not want to just be told!  I want to participate in the creation that God started.”   In short, he uses the afternoon to practice taking part in his own creative process.   After the catharsis, he comes to his parents and apologizes and delivers the evening’s harmony.

 All of this might be a great frustration to his parents, if it were not so thrilling to be reminded that no child is born just once.

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Income inequality and mortality in 282 metropo...

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Hurricane Katrina opens this chapter as an example of how trust breaks down when there is income inequality.  The authors cite the coverage of New Orleans (a city they note has a great disparity of income) following the disaster “Television news screens showed desperate residents begging for help, for baby food, for medicine, and then switched to images of troops cruising the flooded streets in boats – no evacuting people, not bringing them supplies, but, fully armed with automatic weapons, looking for looters.” (49-50)  Similarly they cite the Chicago heat wave of 1995.  In areas where there was little trust, “…poor African Americans, living in areas with low levels of trust and high levels of crime, were too frightened to open their windows or doors, or leave their homes to go to local cooling centres established by city authorities.  Neighbours did not check on neighbours and hundreds of elderly and vulnerable people died.  In equally poor Hispanic neighbourhoods, characterized by high levels of trust and active community life, the risk of death was much lower.”(57)

According to to the General Social Survey a monitor for social change in the last quarter century, there is disparity between the states.  Among North Dakotans, 67 feel like they can trust others.  17% of Mississippians believe others can be trusted.  International and domestic data is congruent, low levels of trust and high income inequality are related.  The United States of America ranks in the top three countries for high income inequality.  Our company is Singapore and Portugal.

Where there is great income disparity, the status of women is lower and (before rising fuel prices) there was also a rise in the sale of SUV as if to offer some protection as one road down the street.   The authors declare trust to be an important “marker” that equality can contribute to a more cohesive society.

Congregational change and development can learn from the development of nations and states.  Trust hangs in the balance as pastoral leaders do their part to develop the program/ministry and relational infrastructure of the congregation.  Too often trust is eroded because church redevelopment efforts are not as intentional about relationships as they are about programmatic initiatives.   When church members are stratified and there is a unequal value put on their opinions, feedback and overall worth, the congregation itself begins to be an unequal environment.  Even as pastors must understand and respect people contextually,we must avoid any temtpation to stratify membership.  As one body of Christ, the whole messages through its individual members.   Our inclination to listen to those members who praise us and ignore those who criticize us may run contrary to the Spirit who invites us all forward.  The healthy congregational leader willdo well to receive all congregational messages without prejudice so that they might settle in like puzzle pieces into the heart and mind of the leader who is the holding environment (Ronald Heifitz) for the effects of congregational change. Pastoral leaders may be primary guardians of equality within their congregation.  The difference it will make will be the extent to which the congregation can rely upon and collaborate with one another in order to exercise the gospel in the world.

*The authors quote Alexis de Tocqueville “Prejudice is an imaginary inequality which is follows the real inequality produced by wealth and law” (pg. 400 of Democracy In America)

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