Paradox Project Redux

Back in the late 90s two cybernauts came to Arcosanti with a vision of how to remake Arcosanti, using some of the resources of the cyberspace digital culture based in SF/Silicon Valley. These two digital innovators Michael Gosney and Ron Anastasia eventually were able to convince Paolo Soleri and the Cosanti Foundation to support and host a series of conferences that were called the Paradox Conferences with the theme based on Paolo Soleri’s thesis/essay about his take digital development and how it relates to Arcology Theory. In addition for a time there even was a all volunteer Paradox Project with the mission of developing the Virtual Arcosanti Model (VAM) and other Paradox related materials to support Arcosanti’s further development. This project was directed by Michael Gosney and coordinated by an onsite volunteer Libby Hubbard who goes by Doctress Nuetopia.

A few weeks ago at School of Thought I mentioned the old Paradox Discussions that occurred during and after the 3 Paradox Conferences we had at Arcosanti from 1997 to 2001. Paolo then seemed to take an interest in revisiting some of the ideas discussed during that time such as in relation to the role of technology in transforming humanity.

The gist of what Paolo was saying about Paradox was that technology had the potential if used properly to guide humanity towards a more rational way of solving problems. He recently put out a short essay revising his paradox thesis and considering how science, technologies and the rational thoughts that supposedly underlie them are empowering humans to find solutions and understand reality without the need for a mystical mother nature or creating God/Goddesses. It almost seems like he sees the dialectic of history in Apollian and Dionysian framework with the feminine/passionate aspect of ourselves as being more intimately linked to the Dionysian – that mystical underwor;d that defines Eros the Greek goddess of love. Then we have a link to Paolo’s reaction to Gaia as well in that Mother Nature in the form of Gaia and Eros are intricately linked together.

In college working on my 10 year political science undergraduate degree I recall being bored by how many narrowly defined political science research and so I focused on political philosophy (a dying sub-discipline). One of my papers in my modern political philosophy class included a exploration of the Gaia Hypothesis.

The Gaia Movement sprang from the Gaia Hypothesis which started when James Lovelock and Lynn Margolis joined forces to craft a grand hypothesis of the earth as a highly interconnected, evolved and even possibly a conscious being to itself. Basically the Gaia Movement is a loose interpretation of the scientific rationale for legitimizing a grand theory of how life on earth is intricately linked together and moves more toward the implication that:

  1. The Earth itself is conscious is implied by label of Gaia
  2. That we can communicate with the Earth/Mother Nature/Gaia
  3. That Gaia itself can have eruptions as a feedback mechanism and can affect us in subtle ways

Thus the very implication of Gaia became something viceral… it moved from a debate about the scientific merits of the hypothese to an ideological battle between the NeoDarwinists and the “heretics” of mainstream science who postulated a more holistic and flexible view of reality and those who sought to maintain the reductionistic status quo of science (and thus according to one blogger I found when I was researching for this blog – preserve the order of materialism which prevails in our culture).

The Gaians who seemed to be seeking to make this elevation of Gaia in science support the formation of earth worshipping religion or spiritual movement, even suggested the possibility of a more “Creationistic” (that is to say that the conscious being called Gaia was in some way guiding the development of its aggregriate/subsidiary life forms) way of explaining reality (from a non-Christian perspective of course). Ironically as the Creation vs Evolution battle rages endlessly in the mainstream media, the Gaia proponents with their thoughtful and holistic view of creation and evolution of life is all but ignored. This really is a great example of the larger issue that Paradox III speaker Paul Ray addresses in his work focusing on the Cultural Creative movement, which is that we who fit his definition of being cultural creatives (in terms of putting forward a more innovative, critical, nonlinear and open view of seeing the world) often feel left out in many national discussions about important issues, philosophies or ideas in the mainstream media.

During the heat of ideological battle in the 90s, intellectuals of all colors and backgrounds were publishing books incorporating Gaia into their understanding of the emerging 21st century worldview.  A great example is that of Norman Myers publishing the Gaia Atlas of Future Worlds, where he tries to show in about 50 or so simple to understand concepts how the existing top down system is collapsing and how a new Gaia-Centric system is emerging to replace it.

The question is how might such nonlinear, multi-dimensional understandings of the world fit with Paolo’s idea of a movement towards a more Apollonian center view of life? When you consider also that many of the cybernauts that came to Paradox were influenced by the patron saints of Silicon Valley/Bay Area culture who often tripped out on Acid in the 60s to find communion with Mother Nature and developed the Internet from that alternative consciousness (people like Doug Engelbart, Steward Brand, Terance McKenna, Timothy Leary, John Perry Barlow, etc)?  That is my burning question for next weeks School of Thought (If your interested What the Doormouse Said is a book that documents the above contention about the founders of Silicon Valley, the Internet and the Modern Personal Computer).

The bottom line was that during the Paradox events there was a contradiction in that the very people participating were part of a counterculture that could be interpreted as very Dionysian at its roots; with raves and thinkers like Marlyn Fergerson (The Aquarian Conspiracy). Of course Michael Gosney co-founder of the Paradox Conference series, modeled his annual Hedonistic themed Digital Be-Ins in SF on the work of people like Timothy Leary. The other co-founder Ron Anastasia spent significant time at two well known spiritual centers for the global new age movement: Auroville and Damhanur.

What’s not talked about so much in the Mainstream Media about “going green” is the foundational basis for this movement is very much based on a more holistic and comprehensive view of how life and its many subsystems work not just competitively as is understood through Darwin, but also cooperatively and symbiotically to weave highly complex and integrated ecosystems that sustain a rich diversity of life.

Taking the Gaia Hypothesis a step further, some of these intellectuals claim that there is actually a consciousness that has driven the evolution of life on earth and that the evolution of civilization in its prevailing western mold is actually in denial of this consciousness. Thinkers such as Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade (see summary of book in magazine article) talks about Partnership vs Dominator Models of governing societies. She we have almost exclusively had civilizations based on the dominator model because the feminine energy of society has been suppressed by Patriarchal civilizations for thousands of years – indeed since the dawn of civilization itself. The connection is made in relation to this suppression of the feminine and our resulting inability to create civilizations that are ecologically and socially sustainable. Ironically enough, as we civilize ourselves in the patriarchal model, we lose that link with the world and instead begin to think the world revolves around us humans and indeed a mere handful of well placed humans at the top of the society.

Ralph Abraham in Chaos, Gaia, Eros: A Chaos Pioneer Uncovers the Three Great Streams of History puts forward a alternative dialectic of creation that traces back the history of civilization and civilized society, posing important questions about how we see our past and how that view of our past impacts the present reality.

Paolo in postulating his Apollian transition of course assumes that Animism (that includes not only conventional religious beliefs but also belief in the supernatual and of course UFOs, conscious systems, paraspychology, zero point energy, etc) is the primary menace or Grand Delusion that hobbles humanity and keeps it in its miserable current condition.

However Ron Anastasia notes (a post Paradox I discussion) that it is not correct to label Paolo as a reductionistic, modern, linear thinker as his way of seeing the world posits a large scale connection between events evolving within the Complexity Miniturization, Duration hypothesis he puts forward in his work:

I’ve discussed Paolo’s feelings about theologies in detail with him. He has a deep aversion to any animistic philosophy that posits an already existing level of spirit or god. He observes that when this idea arises, some humans claim special access to these higher levels, and then set up institutional hierarchies based on their supposed ‘divine’ guidance. All manner of terrible suffering has obviously been the consequence of such theologies.

Paolo says that his Omega Seed hypothesis is not a theology; that is why he calls it an eschatological hypothesis. He specifically rejects the idea of an already existing God, but holds open the contingent possibility that life in the universe may be able to eventually evolve to a level of technological prowess that will enable the creation of a God-like being at the time of the cosmological ‘Big Crunch,’ the singularity point when our universe collapses into its own black hole. It is this idea which has recently become scientifically respectable among cosmologists such as Dr. Freeman Dyson of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, and Dr. David Deutsch of Oxford’s Quantum Computation and Cryptography Group.

The point that I was making in moderating this panel was that Paolo’s philosophical ideas (as distinct from his architectural ones) have been marginalized during the past 30 years by the reductionist and instrumentalist views held by most orthodox scientists. Any philosophy which posits a cosmic meaning for life has been held in low regard by the intellectual authorities of the day.

Recently, however, an increasing number of very credible scientists have begun to question these assumptions. I am not referring here to the spate of “new physics” articles popular in new age circles.

The major example I mentioned in my introduction to the morning panel was the recent book The Fabric of Reality, The Science of Parallel Universes – and Its Implications, by the brilliant Oxford quantum physicist David Deutsch , whose papers on quantum computation have laid the foundation for that field. Paraphrasing from the handout I prepared for the ‘Homo Carbonis – Homo Siliconis panel,’ “Deutsch argues that the four main strands of contemporary scientific theory and philosophy – quantum physics, evolution, computation, and epistemology – remain incomplete explanations of how the universe works. He shows that, when these four strands are considered together, a new unified level of explanation for the nature of reality emerges, one that is objective and comprehensible and in which human actions and ideas play profound roles.” Deutsch says that this new understanding is our current deepest scientific theory of ‘the fabric of reality’ and we should take it seriously.

What is this new level of explanation? Deutsch says “I believe that the *omega -point theory* [emphasis added] deserves to become the prevailing theory of the future of spacetime until and unless it is experimentally (or otherwise) refuted. (Experimental refutation is possible because the existence of an omega point in our future places certain constraints on the condition of the universe today.)”

Interesting to note that one of the lead speakers for Paradox  in 2001 was Joe Firmage – a stock market billionaire at the height of the dot com bubble. His company US Web was a darling of the”New Economy” age. Then something changed, Firmage starting looking at the supernatural. He wrote a book and claimed that he had contact with advanced beings. Such talk was not suitable for a CEO of a billion dollar company. He was quickly removed (or removed himself) from the company. He later went on to establish a web portal company called the ManyOne Network (see also this article about his ManyOne effort) that later partnered with John Graham’s GeoFusion.

If we are take Paolo’s idea of a spiritual “big crunch” leading to a more rational science based reality seriously (which seems quite inconceievable given the level of spiritual belief in the world today), we have to ask: how we move towards more of Apollian society without removing that aspect of connectivity and groundedness with the world that Dionsysian realm traditionally has represented in the human experience? Rather than challenging the Dialectic of Materialism from a Post-Marxist/holistic perspective Paolo seems to fixate on this idea that while Materialism under Capitalism is the problem, Scientific Materialism is also the solution. One problem that might emerge from this perspective is that as Marx understood clearly –  nearly every institution and sector of society is influenced by Capitalism and its culturally dominant Commercial Culture (for more about Commercial Culture see the great book by Leo Bogart Commercial Culture). So why would we think Science and Technology would be immune to this influence of the Capitalist System? The social critic Noam Chomsky talks about elites “defining the bounds of the expressible” through their manipulation of the media and academic sectors of society in his two most famous books Manufacturing Consent and Necessary Illusions. In defining or more appropriately constricting or restricting boundaries, we are talking about limiting the information that people can get access to so that the range of their thinking and more importantly the decisions they make as citizens in a society is as small predictable and therefore as manageable as possible for those relative handful of people at the top of society who define what we see as mainstream reality.

Reviewing the old articles about Paradox which are still on the Arcosanti and Verbum websites (a now dormant venture developed by Paradox Conference organizer Michael Gosney), I saw that John Graham was one of the participants which was interesting because I came across his name previously as he is a friend of one of my colleagues Joy Tang. The first Paradox event in 97 featured John Graham who is well known for his efforts in develop Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at the San Diego State University Visualization Center. Related to this is his work in developing a company called GeoFusion that develop GIS software for various applications. In 2006 he presented at the Digital Earth 05 Conference at UC Berkeley (see Tim Foresman’s Blog). He  has been involved in streaming Burning Man onling going by the handle Hyperjohngraham.

I could not help my notice the comments on Paradox I that were follow up to the event especially those by David Traub:

The greatest paradox was the Paradox itself; that, in violation of his own rather strict almost eco-fundamentalist, hands-in-the-earth ideology, Paolo Soleri let this conference happen at all.

The old versus the new; those set in their ways, versus those seeking the way; the pouring of concrete versus the running of code; the debate for building versus the debate for meaning; the search for a cogent and utopian business model versus the fact that all around us was Paolo’s and no others — his land, his buildings, his heritage, his legacy.

Unfolding were numerous speeches, seminars and debates on Quantum mechanics and the future of digital television; the role of god past, or not yet existent; the internet as the future of consciousness, the biological and physical identity of consciousness — and perhaps the end of consciousness.

And the beginning of life in the 21st century.

These amidst amazing organic meals, internet trans-partying, desert raves, and dancing 100′ feet high lightshow ‘pon million year old shale canyons.

In all, what happened was natural, a dialectic collision in search of the next step. Where does Arcosanti go from here? And more importantly, what — and who — becomes Arcosanti from this point on?

What occurred was the meeting of numerous hearts and minds, cultures and perspectives, missions and mandates.

The result…an emerging proposal, feeding design for the logical and evolutionary next step of this amazing architecturally integral ecology, or “arcology,” begun in the middle of nature, and the middle of mankind’s nowhere.

Emerging will be a proposal to evolve Arcosanti’s digital archology, its ecological archology — that it might further evolve its physical, concrete archology as:

* Arcosanti University, a digital centrum for the next millennium — and a model for the arcologies of the future.

* The American Dream for the 21st Century: a new perspective and definition of “the Dream” before it spreads too far across the overpopulated developing worlds that reconciles individual and family needs, and economic realities and incentives; with ecological awareness and cultural fulfillment, ideally bringing us back from the brink of an impending and impossible attack on our Earth’s ability to sustain us.

* The need for a cogent perspective on economic development and the growth of diverse profit center that enhance the infrastructure’s urgently needed growth, yet cleanly reconciles with the community’s defacto ideologyPerhaps it was just another weekend with a variety of mostly like-minded, creative and interested humans, gone home again, as usual, with minimal impact, and minimal growth.

Or perhaps it was something more. Only time — and lots more concrete and code — will tell.


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