Interview at MindBodyAttention.com

The following is an excerpt from Dec 2017 interview published at MindBodyAttention by Tasshin Fogelman (TF). Full interview can be found here.

TF: ''What is ontology?''

MM: Ontology means way of ordering what exists. It’s broad and interdisciplinary in its usage.

In relation to philosophy, ontologies carry the metaphysical weight of the question -- "What exists?"

In relation to computational systems and meta-analyses, an ontology carries the burden of completeness (see Godel) -- "What accurate ordering is complete enough? "

Ontology is also fundamentally about relationships. In the words of philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich, who wrote in his 1954 book ''Love, Power, and Justice'',

[our search is] the search for basic meaning of all those concepts which are universally present in man's cognitive encounter with the world. Traditionally they are called principles, structural elements, and categories of being. Their elaboration is the work of ontology. Ontology is a way in which the root meanings of all principles… can be found. … we may discover not only [the] particular meanings [of words] but also their structural relation to each other and to being as such.

''What is ONT, the theory or framework? How does your work relate to other frameworks, such as Chris Langan's CTMU? What is the value of such a framework?''

ONT is a framework that establishes an accurate and complete characterization of what exists, both in terms of phenomenology and relational meanings ascribed to phenomena. A simpler way to think of it is as a root ontology or, by way of metaphor, existential DNA. Its structuring dynamics are based on a complex, algorithmic, “autocatalytic” (emergent) conception of existence that is consistent with real physico-cosmic phenomena.

I developed ONT in 2015. Prior to that, I had developed a general, physico-cosmic framework, documented in the early 2000’s after several years of independent study of theoretical physics, cosmology, and experiential phenomenology. I refer to that framework as Novel View. (My original self-published paper on the topic is titled “Implications of a novel view of the cosmological energy density and pressure relationship.”) ONT emerged after some time, a sort of complex though natural extension of Novel View.

At the same time I was documenting Novel View (in the early 2000’s), Chris Langan, a self-taught genius, was publishing CTMU, short for Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe. His work was recognized by a core group and has maintained a modest following over the years. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Langan in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success.

I first learned of Langan’s CTMU a year and a half ago (in 2016) and immediately recognized it as containing metaphysical logic complementary to the cosmological model and dynamics I evoke in Novel View. In late 2016 I published a paper in the journal Cosmos & History in which I argue that CTMU is an explicit logic implicitly proving my claims in Novel View. ONT is not mentioned in that paper as it warrants a distinct type of analysis. Still, by similar logic, one could argue that if Novel View contains reasonable claims, ONT can claim to be a root ontology capturing what it means to exist in the sense of being.

To my chagrin, interest has so far not been reciprocated. In private forums, Langan justifies his reticence towards my work as a matter of proper interpretation of CTMU. Langan relies on a concept he calls distributed solipsism to account for shared reality experiences. This commits CTMU to the notion that logic, mind, and reality are equivalents. I claim that, without Novel View to gird it, CTMU’s reliance on distributed solipsism leaves the theory without the subtleties of meaning and substance that a root logic necessarily must operate within. For this reason, I am in favor of a more conservative view of CTMU than Langan’s original.

I see CTMU as important to confirmation of the logic born of Novel View, but it’s not at all the only framework ONT relates to. I like to say that rather than //"Like nothing you've seen before!"// ONT is //"Not unlike anything."// Some of my favorite //"Not unlikes"// are:

  • Stu Kauffman's Adjacent Possible (Predictive Modeling)
  • Rupert Sheldrake's Morphic Resonance (Biology)
  • Nora Bateson's Symmathesy (Ecology)
  • Dan Siegel's Mindsight (Caregiver Psychology)
  • Lewis Mehl-Madrona's Coyote Wisdom (NA Indigenous Practices)
  • M. Csikszentmihalyi's Autotelic Personality (Optimal Experience & Flow)
  • Barbara Fredrickson's Broaden And Build Theory (Positive Psychology)
  • Kim Scott's Radical Candor (Business Management)
  • Dolpopa Sheyrab Gyaltsen's Emptiness Doctrine (Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy)
  • C.S. Lewis's "Wood Between the Worlds" (Source of the imaginary Narnia)
  • Christopher Alexander's Un-selfconscious Design (Community Architecture)
  • Luciano Floridi's Alice, Bob, and Carol Problem (Philosophy of Information)
  • Murray Bowen's Family Systems Theory (Complex Dynamics)

''You have a database form of ONT, on your computer, built with FileMaker Pro. What does having the framework available as a database accomplish?''

The database form of ONT has allowed me to extend my own ability to relate to meanings and being states categorically. In my experience, Being is complicated, but not infinitely so. Using ONT myself, I get to find the sweet spot, so to speak, where I can extend my understanding beyond what is immediately obvious, and also not risk derailment into irrelevant flights of fancy.

In parallel to the database, I developed long form descriptions of many of the core states. In long form, the descriptions read something like entries in the //I Ching: Book of Changes//. They integrate the field values for each state into a readable, consistent format accessible in ONT through clickable “read more” popup windows. Other long form descriptions (such as for focus and embedded tension states) are written as //meditations//. I distinguish them in this way because they are written in first person, so the reader can read them and explore the effect of it as a complex “I” statement.

Once the database was complete, I saw the opportunity to develop wider reality concepts based on what I also knew about ONT’s cosmological dynamics. In relation to the field called direction, I articulated a conception of subtle reality. Later I added a framework based on the regular ways in which partial views of states of Being that affect a situation limit the scope of one’s perspective for at a given collection of states (referred to as an order). I termed the partial states //binds// and the holistic perspective at a given order as //freedom from partiality//. Together they constitutes a meta-meta relational logic.

Another memorable development from having ONT in database form was a nuanced appreciation of empathy and judgment as existing in tension with each other. I used the database to study certain tension pairs in relation to flow states and developed release exercises that point the way to experiencing deeper layers of compassion and discernment.

So overall, I enjoy using ONT to both consider certain thoughts more deeply and to review specific subsets of the default terms in both list and diagram forms. Having a systematic way for others to consider the relational dynamics of their thoughts in relation to ONT is a goal of mine, though it extends beyond my technical capabilities as far as the programming required. I have begun looking for collaborations and other support to get that done. (See Mirror For Your Thoughts Q/A below.)

''What are the crucial states included in that database? What qualifies a word or other term to be considered a key state in your database? Is it a finite, bounded set?''

Quantitatively, 108 of the 176 states in ONT form a core, finite set. Some examples are joy, ignorance, despair, and initiative. An additional 56 (8x7) states are meta-states, or pluripotent states perched between what can be directly experienced and what must be conceptualized to be understood. Examples of those are surprise, perceptions, and oneness. (I limited the meta-state set though without a logical reason I can state.) The remaining twelve (108+56+''12''=176) can be thought of as the core of the core. They includes the three tension pairs of momentum and position, dispersing and gathering, transient and persistent, which are realized directly through the physico-cosmic phenomena of //radiation, dark energy, heat, gravity, photons, and particles//.

Everything unbounded from that set of 176 I would call conceptualized relationships or non-ontological states, which is where the notion of infinite possibilities comes from.

The answer to the question of qualification for ONT is fascinating and perhaps puzzling. The premise underlying it is that a language more fundamental than words ties our bodily/self-mediated experiences to a shared reality.

Qualifying the terms in ONT as crucial harkens a process of not just having knowledge of meanings linguistically but of the ability to experience resonant states of Being which have the potential to contribute to shared meanings. That could be through being able to relate to the experiences of others in a way that is felt, or expressible through communication by virtue of our physical distinguishability as an individual experiencing something with clarity of being.

Qualifying ONT with a limited set of terms also requires conceptual and linguistic flexibility, which is not a straightforward way to treat pre-defined states. So there’s a paradox.

When I developed the database I was acutely aware that, in choosing linguistic words and phrases to describe each state, the precise terms must be understood to be neither arbitrary nor exact or exclusive. In keeping with that understanding, I refer to the terms associated with each state as “default.” There is conceived to be limitless utility to mapping other words and phrases to the set of categorically defined relational states in ONT.

''What is "Mirror For Your Thoughts"? ''

Mirror For Your Thoughts (MFYT) is a project I hope to develop in the future. It is ONT as a rich search experience. A user enters a thought into a search function and what is returned is dynamic feedback for checking the thought against shared, relational reality. For some, this may bring to mind the experience of a reality check. Yet with reality checks, a judgmental outsider or empathic seer is often doing the checking. Since that’s potentially self-limiting and thus does not capture the greater potential of MFYT, I went with the metaphor of a mirror. Perfect reflections are always impartial and clear, and imparting those experiences is the goal.

"The project Mirror For Your Thoughts delivers a web-based search experience by combining a language-rich relational algorithm with existing digital semantic tools like search interfaces and dictionary, word origin, and synonym databases. The experience guides users such that they perceive meanings related to their search that are reliable, relational, and engendering of impartiality. When the mind has a tool to elucidate such connections, thoughts graduate from searching to curious to flow states that foster compassion, discernment, and integrity through positive feedback with self and others."

-- From MFYT's White Paper version , Nov 2017

''What is the relationship between physics and philosophy?''

Before technological specialization began to dominate physics, and physics began to dominate reality modeling, philosophy was at the helm of the question What is Real. It concerned itself largely with bridging diverse and often mysterious experiences to make “big picture” sense of shared reality. Such inquiry was often tackled equally on religious and scientific fronts. Thus philosophy occupied itself with integration of sometimes puzzling and contradictory direct experiences.

Physics on the other hand concerned itself largely with manipulating experience, such as through experimentation. Manipulating experience, and confusing “results” for reality, has had the unfortunate effect of thrusting physics into a sort of existential death spiral.

By training, I am a scientist, not a philosopher. So to me, the most relevant intersection today between physics and philosophy involves the question of falsifiability. Science says a theory must be falsifiable in order to support truth claims. This dictate has increasingly left little or no room for truth claims -- such as those that philosophy thrives on -- outside of scientific experimentation.

I argued in my 2016 paper in Cosmos & History that no form of theoretical physics is falsifiable. I also pointed out that mainstream scientist and philosophers aren’t comfortable giving up the illusion that theoretical physics is valid science the way that other fields are. Some physicists and philosophers find it impossible to ignore the problem of lack of falsifiability (especially string theorists and multiversers). The approach so far by those who recognize it seems to be to attempt a rewrite the philosophy-science story where science remains the hero of nature and is let off the hook for its shortcomings.

More broadly, the tension between science and religion has been taking a toll on professional philosophy. In late 2017, the secular humanism journal Free Inquiry published an opinion piece by philosophy Grande dame and author of Defending Science Susan Haack in which she concludes “philosophy can't be done by relying on slogans, whether the slogan ‘restore awe and transcendence’ or ‘save scientific naturalism’.” (To read the paper, see The Real Question: Can Philosophy Be Saved?) Philosophy is doing serious soul-searching of its own. For the time being, philosophical stories about physics fall into the spiral of faux falsifiability, and science will struggle to save the nature it has in part deconstructed and not yet figured out out how to reconstruct.

''What is the value of a diagram in exploring and explaining mental concepts and frameworks?''

I know it’s important, but it’s also not at all my area of expertise. So rather than answering the question as a general assessment, I’ll answer it with what I know. Diagramming and graphical depictions are present throughout ONT. As I aim to develop MFYT, the question of doing diagrams right -- hitting the sweet spot, so to speak, between information and experiential learning -- is a necessary goal. Applying current knowledge optimally seems it could be crucial.

A root ontology like ONT suggests a unique kind of experience of understanding that is both experiential and relational. As such, getting the diagrams and other explanatory tools right may be brand new territory. What’s needed is an approach that blends, or at least seamlessly informs, both analytic and explanatory graphical tools.

Today, complex systems and computational figures and diagrams that I am aware of tend to group and branch quantitatively related information to make their points. Language-driven diagrams often rely on conceptual flow and symbolic imagery to get points across.

About half of the layouts in ONT (the Filemaker program) are diagrammatic; the other half are lists and tables. In the early days of ONT, I used all of the same tools -- but with pen and paper. I did diagrams intuitively, and then honed the various forms I came up with into a few key ones. The nature of ONT is that it is layered and relational, so once I had a useful diagram for one set of relationships, I was able to create a setting or two and populate the same diagram with other layers of the same type of relationship sets.

''I understand that traditional thinkers and academics aren’t always receptive to your works and ideas. Why is that? How do we discern for ourselves the value or import of a theory that may or may not be accepted in the mainstream?''

My ideas and experiences around reticence by others has changed in subtle ways over time. I worked on staff at universities for 19 years to support myself and my family financially before developing ONT and having the means to leave. So I hung in there experiencing a sort of aspirant limbo. At one point, I composed the better part of a novel to help myself sort out all of the characters, fears, biases, dreams, etc. involved in holding ideas that would seem to upend traditional knowledge structures.

My conclusion -- receptivity requires letting go of

  • pretenses about reality,
  • the hypnotic power of joyless enterprise, and
  • the sense of fragility born of lack of existential humility

Now I use ONT as my go-to tool for reflecting on difficult situations such as lack of receptivity.

Let’s look at //letting go of pretenses// about reality as an example. With my history in academia, it seemed natural to me that academia would be enthusiastic about my work, which it so far has not. The ONT analysis of one particular “bind of partiality” is useful in understanding. Academia operates in the Essential Knowledge Bind, a pretense where institutionalization of knowledge generates not just meaningfulness but true meanings. With the power of the Essential Knowledge Bind, academia claims authority over reality models through methods concerned with consistency and accuracy (in terms of mental content).

Last year I learned to my surprise that the misanthropic CTMU community is extremely anti-academia. It’s as if it embraces oppositional defiance with academia. That put me in an even more awkward situation because I see no problem in maintaining a measure faith in both academia and outsider thought. Like a hope of academia and CTMU “getting along”, freedom from partiality often appears as a ridiculous logical impossibility. It’s not a necessary existential separation though. It’s simply a structural limitation when collectives of people operate within binds that are also oppositional.

In the context of the Essential Knowledge Bind, the pretenses each of them make about reality make perfect sense. Each affirms (or subdues, by affirming in the null) certain models based on knowledge. Academia offers a sort of open-book model test; CTMU, a closed-book test. What they share is that each holds knowledge tests as essential to meaning.

More generally, binds are inherently complex in that they are fueled by both partiality and oppositional tension between parties who practice the partiality. Knowing this doesn’t make it easier to “pitch” a different view (without people grasping core ontology first). At present, I find that seeing these struggles in such a light gives me clarity of thought and compassion for myself and others as I work to advocate for freedom from limiting binds, such as that knowledge tests are essential for meaningfulness.

As far as garnering faith in a theory for oneself, look for models that are reasonable and useful and have the the capacity to be widely-impactful. I also like to say, you cannot fail to discern when your vision is focused on the matters immediately at hand. Should they engage your sense of wonder, fearlessly so, they are worth pursuing.

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