Archive for the ‘perception’ Category

There’s something which really bothers me about modern management theory and practice – “efficiency”.

“Why should that bother you?” you ask.

Well, because it seems to me that it usually means getting the greatest return from the least input or effort. And I’m not sure that’s always a good idea. I’m coming from the perspective of health care. I despaired of the annual cuts after cuts after cuts in the NHS. Every year I saw colleagues who retired or moved away, not replaced. Every single time someone left the remaining staff were asked to “absorb” the missing colleague’s workload. Every year there were more budget restrictions, more closures of beds and services, all in the name of “efficiency”.

So what has happened now that a pandemic has hit? Not enough beds, not enough equipment, not enough staff. Even now, weeks into the crisis, frontline staff lack adequate amounts of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). All the pressure to “protect the NHS” was due to the fact it had been pared down to the bone over at least a decade. There was, and there is, no, or little, resiliency in the system. Yes, they redirected staff and reallocated beds to deal with the COVID-19 patients, but did so at the expense of the care and services which those staff and beds were normally employed for.

Is it really a good idea to have “just in time” ordering and delivery systems for something like the NHS? It doesn’t look like it. Is it really a good idea to have as few beds as possible, as few hospitals as possible and as few staff as possible? It doesn’t look like it.

Nature doesn’t do it this way.

Nature goes for abundance. Look at the seedhead in the photo at the start of this post. How many seeds are there from that single plant? Way more than you’d “need” for reproduction and spread you might think. Would it not be more “efficient” for the plant to produce, say, half that number of seeds? Or maybe only ten percent? It doesn’t look like it.

Complex adaptive systems are Nature’s way of enabling adaptability and resilience. All such systems have what scientists call “redundancy” – by which they mean there are “belt and braces” approaches, there are several pathways to achieve the same thing. It’s by drawing on those “extra” resources and methods that Natural living organisms survive and thrive.

I think we need to learn that from Nature. There’s been way too much paring back, stripping down, and minimising going on. If we want resilient services, and resilient societies we aren’t going to get there by “efficiently” going for the least, the cheapest, the quickest and the meanest.

Here’s what Nature does –

It goes for more……

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What happens as new technologies, new designs and new fashions appear? Do they replace the existing and past ones? Do we throw away the ones we have and replace them with the new ones we just bought?

Well, I suspect that happens a lot. What do we do with the old “stuff’? Stick it in a drawer, or in the attic? I read that most of us have old phones, old cameras, old laptops etc stuck in the house somewhere….no longer used, out of sight, out of mind, just occupying space (although, to be fair, it’s usually dark space……somewhere hidden where nobody can see it)

Dark space, huh? There’s an interesting idea! Sounds a bit like “dark matter” or “dark energy” which between them are apparently mainly what the universe is “made of”. I wonder how much the “dark space” in our houses affects the way we live? Or do you think all that stuff has no effect because you don’t see it on an everyday basis?

If we don’t stick the old stuff into dark space, then maybe what we do is throw it away, give it away, or sell it. There are increasingly good reasons to do the latter two, rather than the former one.

Nature doesn’t do waste. There is no waste in Nature. So why don’t we try to be more natural?

Be more like Nature!

How are we going to do that? Well, reducing waste would be a good idea. Longevity of products would help that. In other words making things which last. We used to call that quality. Wouldn’t it be good to have better quality in our lives?

But longevity isn’t enough. Our lives change, our needs change, there is just a lot that we don’t need any more, don’t use any more, don’t wear any more. What to do with that?

Share it – “toy banks”, “clothes banks”, “community swaps” etc.

Give it away – donations to charities, to relatives, to friends etc

Sell it – in France there are lots of “vide grenier” – which translates as “attic emptying” – in other countries you might call them “garage sales” or “car boot sales”. There are lots of online options too.

Or, in the case in the photo above, it seems to me, they’ve gone for “and not or”. They had a way of visitors letting them know they were there. It’s pretty attractive actually……a handbell with a cockerel on top. But, maybe because it’s not so easy to get to the door any more, they’ve added a smart video-doorbell, so they can see who is there, and, maybe, I don’t know, press a button to open the door. So why not just take the bell and cockerel down and throw it away, give it away, or sell it? Maybe it means something to this homeowner. Maybe their grandfather made it, or it was a wedding gift, or….well, use your imagination. We humans relate to objects in more than mere utilitarian ways. Sometimes we want to have a particular object because it inspires memories, symbolically conveys meaning to us, or to others…..and that’s absolutely fine.

(Mind you, it’s unlikely all that stuff in your “dark space” has got real, valued meaning for you…..because if it did, why would you keep it where you can’t see it??)

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There’s an amazing plant known as “Boston ivy”, or “False Vine”, which grows up the largest, old stone wall on one border of my garden. Actually the wall has fallen down now, but the vine is still growing, and has in fact made the gaping wound of the collapse considerably more beautiful.

I’ve had great pleasure from this vine over the last five and half years. It changes SO much with each season. This particular photo is taken in early Spring when the dormant, rather bare, plant is waking up and emerging from the Winter.

The first sign of its awakening is the appearance of the these bright red buds which look like pen tips, or the beaks of tiny finch-like birds. If you look carefully, maybe especially at the one which is most “top right” of the group, the woody part of the stem even looks like it has created an eye, which with the red bud bursting forth, makes this look even more like the head of a little bird with a bright red beak.

One of the things I find most attractive about a phenomenon like this in Nature is how it demonstrates symmetries and echoes of other parts of the world. As far as I am aware, there are no little finches with bright red beaks in this part of the world, so it’s only my awareness of them from other experiences that allows me to see these buds as suggestive of something else.

I think a lot of symmetries, echoes and resonances are like that. We have to have the other prior experiences and knowledge, we have to have an open mind, really paying attention to the detail of what is right before our eyes, but we also need imagination.

Without imagination could these resonances exist?

That question, suddenly, reminds me of the old “Does a tree falling in a forest make a noise if there is nobody there to hear it?”

Well, does it?

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These two images were taken within seconds of each other. Both are a picture of the full moon through the branches of a tree.

But they look very different don’t they?

In the first one, the tree is to the fore. We notice the pattern of twigs, buds and branches, with the full moon as a white, circular background. If you look carefully, you can even see different colours, some reddish, some bluish, in the tree….although I’m still not sure where those colours came from!

In the second one, I’ve allowed the light of the moon to dominate, whiting out the tree in front of it….almost completely, but what this has done is reveal the parts of the tree lit by the moon, but just outside of the intense white light of the moon itself. This does two things…..it creates a sense of a swirling circle of branches around the moon, with an opening in the tree which just happens to be moon-shaped. This is an illusion – there is no moon-shaped gap in the tree.

I love both of these images, and don’t actually have a preference, but I realise that just by altering the exposure setting in the camera, I alter the entire frame of the shot….and that the two different frames give very different experiences of reality.

That’s what frames do. They shape our experience of reality. The frames we use all the time are fashioned out of our beliefs, values, habits of thoughts, and established attitudes. They aren’t easy to change. They aren’t even that easy to see. But I think it’s important to try to become aware of them, given how powerfully they shape our perception of reality.

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Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Le Petit Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I often notice, and photograph heart shapes, but in this particular photo what I like best is that the heart is in a path.

I like that because I think this is the most fundamental value for me. It’s not a simple value….this heart-focused one….but its complexity adds to it, rather than diluting it.

The heart is a symbol of love for us. If I want to live the best life I can live, I believe it has to be a life of love. Love in all its forms. Love in the form of care and compassion. Love in the form of passion and desire. Love in the form of bonds and relationships. Maybe we don’t speak much about these forms of love these days, but it’s always something I think we can do with more of.

The heart is also a symbol of the soul. “Heart felt”, “heart warming”, “good hearted”, “heart to heart” are all phrases which suggest authenticity and depth. It is the antithesis of the superficial and careless. It nurtures. It supports. It nourishes.

The heart is an important part of the body for processing emotions. We now know there is a neural network, of the kind of cells we used to thought you found only in the brain, around the heart. What does that network do? It seems to be involved in the generation and management of emotions.

The heart also focuses us on qualities rather than quantities. What we see, what we feel, what we know, with the heart can’t be examined under a microscope, weighed, measured or have a monetary value attached to it.

A path of the heart is a path of love, emotion and quality.

What is essential is invisible – and can only be seen with the heart.

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Human beings are very, very social creatures. By that, I mean we connect with others, cast our thoughts and imaginings into whatever we are paying attention to, and by creating these bonds, these links, these resonances with “others” we change ourselves.

We’ve known this in biology for a few years now but it’s still a concept which is developing. We continue to isolate the individual from their environment and their relationships when we study them. But that is never going to be a successful strategy. If we really want to understand someone we must, at very least, consider their social environment. Why?

Because we become what we do, and we do what we notice others doing. Look at this photo. Did this phenomenon start in Paris? This “love locks” idea of fastening a padlock to a bridge? Maybe, but you can find the same phenomenon around the world now. However, just looking at this example in Paris – it’s hard to see any spaces left to fix another padlock…..SO many padlocks have been attached! I wonder who fixed the very first one?

Of course, there’s a “meta” level in this photo, because I didn’t just photograph the locks, I photographed this guy taking a photo of the locks. I, sort of, did what he was doing…..which makes me wonder now if anyone was taking a photo of me taking a photo of this guy photographing the locks…..

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Tiktok thrive on this basic human characteristic…..we seem compelled to copy, to mimic, to repeat and to share what we witness. How quickly has “taking the knee” spread around the world in recent weeks? And why now? It’s not that this gesture appeared for the first time this year…..but this year, it’s caught on and spread like wildfire.

As I understand it the field of economics hasn’t caught up with this insight yet. The currently dominant “neoclassical” or “neoliberal” model seems to think of every human being as an individual, living autonomously, independently making their own choices in complete separate isolation from everyone else. Well, human beings are not like that. Happily there are newer schools of economic thought which are based on the understanding that human beings are such social creatures…..that it’s a mistake to assume we are all independent free agents making uninfluenced personal choices.

When I started out on these daily posts at the beginning of the lockdown period here in France back in mid March, I mentioned the fact that we are all influencers. Whatever we do influences other people. And that’s why I decided to share these little pieces of wonder, amazement, delight, beauty and understanding……to, hopefully set off all those fabulous phenomena in other people wherever they live……to hopefully increase the wonder, amazement, delight, beauty and understanding in YOUR life, as well as in mine.

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This is one of my most favourite photos. Here in the Charente we are blessed with incredible sunsets. There are, of course, all different kinds of sunsets, but one that I love most is the “immersive” kind. That’s where the entire sky changes colour. You know, watching a large disc of red sun sink below the horizon, is wonderful, but when the entire sky turns an infinite range of reds and purples it’s really something else.

When you are witnessing a scene like that, you are IN that scene. You are a part of it. You feel absorbed by it, entranced by it, enchanted by it. It’s a real world magical experience.

This particular evening I crouched down behind the old well in the garden and took this photo. I love the silhouette of the old iron bowl on its chain, suspended over the hidden depths of the water in the well, with the vibrant, glowing, fiery sky behind and above it.

That well has water in it. It’s over 20 metres down. We measured it using a ball of string with an old key tied on the end. 20 metres looks a long way down. When you peer into the well, (which is normally closed with a padlocked metal lid), you see a long dark vertical tunnel with a flicker of light in its very depths. Looking more closely you can make out shapes and colours which you know are the reflections of the sky, and of you. It’s a bit like looking into a kaleidoscope and recognising yourself.

This old iron bowl looks rather like a cauldron to me, which also inspires me to think of magic. It adds to the whole experience of being enchanted. So, maybe it’s not a surprise that what comes flooding into my mind when I look at this image are thoughts of alchemy…..of how we humans learned to work with both fire and water. Where would we be without either of these elements? Where would we be without having learned some of the secrets of fire and water?

Mind you, we’ve still got a LOT to learn! Do we really understand fire and heat and how to interact with it, how to live with it, how to thrive with it? Do we really understand water?

Of course there is a third element to consider when we experience a sunset like this……the observer, the one who is experiencing, the subject. It’s you, it’s me, it’s us. The truly astonishing alchemy of this is when we, as conscious, living, human beings, perceive and experience the fire and the water, and blend our memories and imagination to fashion an expression of those lived moments.

There is definitely a kind of alchemy in photography.

There is definitely a kind of alchemy in being human.

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Just below the long bridge from the mainland to Ile d’Oleron, at low tide, you can see lots of people out gathering seafood, digging up the shells from the mud. I like this photo I took of them one day. I like the blue colour of the scene and the way people are scattered across the beach. I imagine they almost look like notes on a musical stave.

There’s a growing understanding of human beings, human behaviour and character which comes from taking an evolutionary approach. I think that sometimes it’s a bit overdone, but there are significant insights to be gained by taking this perspective.

For example, one way to understand the brain is to use the “triune” model – the idea that you can see three, distinct, regions or parts – the brain stem, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. Taking an evolutionary perspective we can see that the vital life-sustaining functions of the brain stem are shared with many creatures much further back along the evolutionary tree than human beings. Then we can see the functions of social connection and the emotions which seem to be the domain of the limbic system….functions shared with other mammals. Finally, the cognitive functions of the cerebral cortex, and the development of the frontal regions in particular, are shared with higher primates. This model can help you to get a handle on brain function but it falls down when you take a too reductionist approach to it…..a common problem with a lot of neuroscience which, at worst, degenerates into a kind of phrenology. The brain is a much more complex, massively interconnected, distributed network. It can’t be so easily divided into three separate parts.

Psychologists often explain to people about the alarm function of the amygdala and how it developed to keep us safe as hunters and gatherers but that now that we live in urban environments, pretty free of daily predators, those ancient circuits have a tendency to alert us to imaginary existential threats, rather than real ones.

Last year I read “The Emotional Mind. The Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition” by Stephen Asma and Rami Gabriel which brilliantly places emotions in a central role in human behaviour by tracing the evolutionary path of affect. It wasn’t an easy read, and I was glad I’d read so much about neuroscience and evolutionary psychology before I came across it, but it really has helped me understand the emotions as “adaptive strategies”…..something I’ve explored in my book, “And not or”

As I was looking through my photo library I found this photo quite close to the one I’ve shared at the beginning of this post –

See any similarities?

Ha! Sometimes I think it helps to remind ourselves that we humans are part of Nature, not apart from Nature. We have a lot in common with all other forms of Life as we mutually strive to survive and thrive.

If remembering our hunter gatherer origins helps us to remember that, then it’s a good thing!

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This is one of those “Are you a glass half full, or glass half empty, person?” images. When you look at this I’m guessing you’re either going to be thinking “Yikes! Look how BLACK that cloud is! There’s a storm coming!!” or “Look how pretty and soft those clouds look just above the vines! Better weather is coming!”

And not or.

I’m neither glass half full, nor glass half empty. I can be optimistic some days, and pessimistic others. But what pleases me most is a sense of wholeness. I love the contrasts, polarities, and their dynamic relationship with each other. So, in fact, this is just the kind of image which really appeals to me.

I love how the blackness of the storm cloud is echoed in the blackness of the vineyard (which only happens because I exposed for the bright blue sky and white, fluffy clouds). That makes this image a bit like a yin yang symbol for me, and you know how much I like that!

I was reading some articles in the French Press about what kind of world might lie ahead for us after this pandemic. They use the term “L’après” – in English we’d use the phrase “The After World”….or, more likely, “the world afterwards”, but just using the term “The After” in the French way conjures up connections with that other “after” term – “The After Life” – which traditionally relates to life after death, doesn’t it? Well, many of the articles are in fact about the “after life” but not in that traditional sense. They are about life after the pandemic…..or how could/might/should we live in the light of what we have experienced?

That’s a really ancient question, isn’t it? “How to Live?” It’s one of my favourite questions, and I think its interesting that we humans have been wrestling with it for centuries. There are, of course, a myriad of answers based on different world views and beliefs, but, somehow, I find, it’s not answers I’m looking for…..what thrills me is the hunt….the enquiry….the exploration. Maybe one of my strongest drives is curiosity. That and wonder. And I find both of those incredibly satisfying.

So, I’m drawn to the “whole”. I’m drawn to dynamic change. I’m drawn to “émerveillement” (wonder and amazement – or “enchantment” perhaps?). I’m drawn to explore, to understand and to learn. As I move forwards through 2020 and beyond those will be my foundations – along with love and care.

Do you remember the two words I picked for this year? Based on two books I received for Christmas?

Émerveillement and Bienveillance.

How about you? What values are going to help you to navigate the weeks and months ahead?

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Like yesterday, I’ve found two images that I want to use together. Unlike yesterday, they don’t represent a single phrase. Instead, I think they demonstrate a single concept.

We try to make sense of the world by focusing on bits of it. A bit like looking through a keyhole, or catching sight of what lies through a gateway.

Our left cerebral hemisphere seems to have evolved to develop this skill to the great heights we now experience. It drills down. It focuses. It abstracts elements from the whole to analyse them, categorise them and label them. In both physical and mental senses of the word, it helps us to “grasp” things.

“Things”. That’s an important word to use here, because this is what this type of narrow focus does. It turns whatever it grasps into objects. It separates “objects” out from each other, and from their contexts. This can work pretty well when we are dealing with material forms, but it starts to go wildly astray when we are dealing with living creatures, with non-material reality such as feelings, thoughts, beliefs and relationships, or, even, I would claim, when dealing with illness.

We often hear illnesses described as if they are objects or entities – “stand up to cancer!”, “conquer heart disease!”, “defeat dementia!” etc. But illnesses are not objects, and neither are they entities. They are more like processes, dysfunctions and disorders of complex networks of relationships.

There is no doubt that zero-ing in on some phenomena helps us to recognise them, classify them, and, yes, grasp them. But the job is only partially done at that point. The normal function of the brain involves the left hemisphere handing back to the right hemisphere the results of its analysis, where the contexts, environments, connections and relationships are re-created. This is how we better understand what we are dealing with….by seeing the whole, by seeing the flows of materials, energy and information, by spotting the dynamic movements, the constantly changing web of connections and relationships. And, in so doing, “objects” often turn out not to be “things” after all.

These two photos remind me of that.

They remind me of the value of peeking through the keyhole, but also the need to step through and into whatever we are observing, in order to know better, to understand more deeply, to more fully grasp….

Looking through the keyhole, turning the key, unlocking the door, approaching the gate…..these are all just a beginning. They invite us to enter, to experience, to explore.

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