classical scholars and Western philosophers alike, the emergence of
rational, discursive, formal thought is historically linked with the
"Greek miracle", i.e. the exceptional cultural form emerging rapidly in
Ancient Greece between ca.600 BCE and the death of Alexander the Great
(323 BCE). The latter initiated an enormous expansion of Greek culture all
over the Mediterranean area and beyond, moving from Classical Greek to
cosmopolitical humanism, from citizen to individual, from "theoria" to a
practical "art of life". Hellenism, as this process is called, and its
conceptual rationality are co-relative phenomena. In philosophy, the
Greeks clearly defined the distinction between theory (ideality) and fact
(reality). For all pre-Renaissance intellectuals, Greek and Hellenistic
thought represented the way of science. Opposed to a dogmatic theology,
this way inevitably seen by the Church as Pagan, heretical and atheist.
With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE, this major influence of Greece
came to a final close.
The "Greek miracle" did not eclipse the fact pre-Greek civilizations,
of which Ancient Egypt was the grandest, had produced great thinkers,
writers and men of science. Of all peoples of Antiquity, the Ancient
Egyptians had been the most literary, reproducing huge quantities of
hieroglyphs in their tombs and on the walls of their temples. From the
Renaissance on, vain attempts at decipherment had entailed a process of
explaining the esoteric, allegorical, metaphorical, analogical, hidden
("mystical") significance of these hieroglyphs. The greatest
stumbling-block in the way of discovering the phonetics of hieroglyphs was
the general confusion about the script at the end of its historical use
(on the island of Philae in 394 CE). Authors like Diodorus Siculus,
Chaeremon and Horapollo, an Egyptian of the fifth century CE, all affirmed
hieroglyphs were not phonetical but allegorical. The Renaissance took this
view for granted and failed to understand the language.
Only since recently has it become clear that a relatively large corpus of
Ancient Egyptian literature exists and that some of it predates the oldest
Greek works of literature with thousands of years. Only between 1960 and
1970 has the "standard" theory on Middle Egyptian emerged (a linguistic
redefinition of the verbal forms by Polotsky). Large numbers of papyri are
still stored away untranslated. The challenge today, is to accept the
presence of a pre-Greek, ante-rational system of thought able to produce a
lasting culture of excellence. To posit ante-rationality, begs the
question of the modes of thought characterizing the genesis of the
cognitive apparatus. This is the theme of this short text.
In my Dutch studies on epistemology and anthropology (Prolegomena,
summarized in English as the
Rules of the Game of "true" Knowledge,
expanded and situated in a
the Piagetian theory on cognition was explained and eclectically enlarged
(by adding system-theory, cybernetics, neo-Freudianism, Kohlberg and
Maslow). The worldwide findings of Piaget could be enlarged.
The use of capitals in words
as "Absolute", "God" or "Divine", points to a rational context (i.e. how these
appear in a theology conducted in the rational mode of thought). Hence, when
these words are used in the context of Ancient Egyptian ante-rational thought
(which, as a cultural form, was mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational), this
restriction is lifted. Hence, words such as "god", "the god", "gods",
"goddesses", "pantheon" or "divine" are not capitalized.
present Studies on Ancient Egypt, certain features of the Egyptian language (and
its genesis) were found to correlate with the earliest, ante-rational
stages of cognitive growth ; the mythical, pre-rational and proto-rational
modes of thought. From the Late Predynastic Period (ca. 3600 - 3000 BCE)
onward, until the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom (ca.
1759 BCE, with the death of Pharaoh Nefru Sobek), when Egyptian became
classical "Middle" Egyptian, the developmental stages of Egyptian are
largely in accord with the features of the mythical, pre-rational and
modes of cognition. If this is so, then
genetical epistemology offers a mindset to be able to better understand
the mixtures and layers of ante-rational modes of cognition, so
outstandingly evidenced by Ancient Egyptian
In genetical epistemology, the cognitive process is analyzed in terms of
coordination of movements, interiorization and permanency :
formation of new cognitive forms is triggered by the repeated confrontation
with an unexpected, novel, original, eccentric action, a set of
events & happenings, radically undermining the tenacity with which
acquired ideas shaped a particular, limited view of the world (universe,
cosmos), a framework or architecture of habit and expectation, security &
stability, dramatically challenged by the significant confrontation with
this novel action - no conceptualization occurs, for objects and beings are
equated with their motoric coordinations (mythical thought) ;
action-reflection or the interiorization of this novel action by means of
semiotic factors ; this is the first level of permanency or pre-concepts
which have no decontextualized use (pre-rational thought) ;
& retro-action using these pre-concepts, valid insofar as they symbolize the
original action but always with reference to context : the concrete
concept (proto-rational thought) ;
of permanency : formal concepts, valid independent of the original action
and context & the formation of permanent cognitive (mental) operators : the
abstract concept (rational thought).
In this way,
Piaget defined four fundamental layers of cognitive growth :
sensori-motoric cognition, between birth and 2 years of age ;
pre-operational cognition, between 2 and 6 ;
operatoric cognition, between 7 and 10 ;
formal-operatoric cognition, between 10 & 13.
Mental operators (part of consciousness) identify (symbolize) actions in
sets of conscious (semantics), informational (syntax) & material
(pragmatics) activity. Auto-regulation is the result of interactions
between the system and its environment. Hence, (inter)subjectivity is
essential in the construction of new and stronger cognitive structures.
This implies cognitive processes not only appear as resulting from organic
auto-regulation (of which they reflect the essential mechanisms) but also
emerge as differentiated organs of this regulation in the arena of the
interactions of the system with the environment. Cognition being the most
differentiated biological organ of survival human beings have.
Seven different types of schemata emerge. The first four can be called
"foundational" or "elemental", and are mainly exterior (the adaptations
between coordinations of movement and reality), while the top three mostly
invite the first person perspective (interiority) :
sensori-motoric, mythical thought : aduality implies only one
relationship, namely with immediate physicality ; object & subject reflect
perfectly ; earliest schemata are restricted to the internal structure of
the actions (the coordination) as they exist in the actual moment and
differentiate between the actions connecting the subjects and the actions
connecting the objects. The action-scheme can not be
manipulated by thought and is triggered when it practically materializes ;
pre-operatoric, pre-rational thought : at last object and subject are
differentiated and interiorized ; the subject is liberated from its
entanglement with the actual situation of the actions ; early psychomorph
causality. The subjective is projected upon the objective and the objective
is viewed as the mirror of the subjective. The emergence of pre-concepts and
pre-conceptual schemata does not allow for permanency and logical
control. The beginning of decentration occurs and eventually objectification
ensues ... ;
concrete-operatoric, proto-rational thought : conceptual structures
emerge which provide insight in the essential moments of the operational
mental construction :
(a) constructive generalization ;
(b) the ability to understand each step and hence the total system, and
(c) autoregulation enabling one to run through the system in two ways,
causing conservation. The conceptual schemata are "concrete" because
they only function in contexts and not yet in formal, abstract mental spaces
formal-operatoric, rational thought : abstract conceptual structures
positioned in mental spaces which are independent of the concrete, local
environment. Liberated from the contextual approach but nevertheless
rooting the conditions of knowledge outside the cognitive apparatus itself ;
transcendental or critical thought : abstract ideas explaining how knowledge and its
growth are possible, rooted in the "I think", the transcendental unity of
apperception (or transcendental Self). This is the Kantian project ;
thought : unique, abstract ideas of the ontic Self, constituting a creative,
microcosmic reality of Self-manifestation (cf. intuition) ;
thought : the unveiling of being to being-there (cf. phenomenology,
philosophy of mysticism, mystical experience, prehension).
3 STAGES OF COGNITION in
7 MODES OF THOUGHT
instinct and reason
barrier between reason and intuition
For further information
The cognitive development of
children happens in stages. Three major stages of cognition can be defined, and
within each substages are at work. Ancient Egyptian thought covers the first
stage of cognition, the pre-nominal stage. Three tools of thought are
simultaneously operational : the notion, the pre-concept and the concept.
MYTHICAL or PRE-LOGICAL THOUGHT
First substage :
only a virtual consciousness of identity ;
action testifying a quasi complete indifferentiation between the subjective
and the objective side of cognition ;
quasi uncoordinated, i.e. random movements are frequent.
decentration of actions with regard to their material origin (i.e. the
physical body) ;
objectification by a subject experiencing itself for the first time as the
source of actions ;
objectification of actions and the experience of spatiality ;
linked because of the growing coordination of actual actions ;
between actions in means/goals schemes, allowing the subject to experience
itself as the source of action (initiative), moving beyond the dependence
between the external object and the acting body ;
temporal permanency and causal relationships are observed ;
differentiation (between object and subject) leads to logico-mathematical
structures, whereas the distinction between actions related to the subject
and those related to the external objects becomes the startingpoint of
causal relationships ;
together of schematics derived from external objects or from the forms of
actions which have been applied to external objects.
The earliest stage of mythical thought is adual and non-verbal. The only
"symbols" and "forms" are the material events themselves in all
their immediacy and wholeness. It is this non-verbal core, making the mythopoetic mind as analogical as the artistic. In mythical
thought, everything is immediate and the immediate is all. Ergo, myth goes
against the differentiation feeding the complexification of thought &
Before the rise of language, mythical cognition is imbedded in action and
allows for the distinction between an object & a subject of experience by
being conscious of the material, exteriorized schematics connecting both
in the immediate context of their emergence (cf. the myth of water & the
sacred feminine in Ancient Egyptian Predynastic Gerzean ware-design, the
petroglyphs of the Eastern Desert).
The first differentiation occurs when, on the level of material, actual,
immediate actions, the object is placed before the subject of
experience. This emergence of subjectivity implies the decentration of the
movements of the physical executive agent (the body), unveiling the
subject as source of action. This prepares the interiorizations of
pre-rational thought. By the foundational difference between the body and
the empirical subject, consciousness can be attributed to a focus of
Mythical thought is non-verbal. Nevertheless, actions are triggered by a
subject conscious of a whole network of practical and material
actualizations, although without any conceptual knowledge but only through
immediate, exteriorized material schemes (cf. the rise of the outer rule
of Pharaoh, who, with his "transcendent element", brings the Two
Lands of creation under unity).
In terms of cognitive texture, mythical thought is the "irrational"
foundation of ante-rationality. Indeed, the earliest layer of human
cognitive activity is devoid of logical necessity, although
patterns & schemes are present, but their flexibility and plasticity are a
function of the direct environment and what happens there. Action and
source of action are distinguished, but coordinations which suggest any
reflection on the action itself (or on the actor) are absent. Hence,
idiotic schemes are obsessively repeated. The "irrationality" being the
total absence of means to communicate meaning, except in immediate
physical terms (offering something, going away, kicking the other etc.).
Nevertheless, the subject is conscious of being a source of action. There
is a non-verbal sense of identity (I-am-ness) and a mythical verbalization
Predynastic Egypt (ca. 4000 - 3000 BCE) thought & spoke in myths, but
wrote nothing down, except in the odd schemata.
the introduction of semiotical factors (symbolical play, language, and the
formation of mental images), the coordination of movements is no longer
exclusively triggered by their practical and material actualizations without
any knowledge of their existence as forms, i.e. the first layer of thought
occurs : the difference between subject & object is a signal which
gives rise to
the symbol ;
simple action, a new type of interiorized action is erected which is
not conceptual because the interiorization itself is nothing more than a
copy of the development of the actions using signs and imagination ;
no object of
thought is realized but only an internal structure of the actions in
a pre-concept formed by imagination and language ;
intelligence and interiorization of imitation in imaginal representations ;
view on causality : no distinction between objects and the actions of the
living beings with qualities attributed to them as a result of interactions
at first, no
logical distinction is made between "all" and "few" and comparisons are
comprehended in an absolute way, i.e. A < B is possible, but A < B < C is
difference between class and individual is grasped, but transitivity and
reversibility are not mastered ;
pre-concepts & pre-relations are dependent on the variations existing
between the relational characteristics of objects & can not be reversed,
making them rather impermanent and difficult to maintain. They stand between
action-schema and concept.
A tremendous leap forwards ensues. The formation of a subjective focus (at the
end of the mythical phase of thought) is necessary to allow for the next step :
interiorization, imagination and
the actual articulation of pre-concepts, leading up to pre-relations between
objects, although the latter remain psychomorph. This implies that confusions
between pre-relations and pre-concepts are not dealt with. These are, as it
were, put on top of each other, causing conflictual (antinomic) layers to exist
side by side. Subjective qualities are projected upon objects and subjective
states are treated as if they were objective realities.
The reality of objects is always personalized or made subjective. Natural
phenomena, stones, trees and animals "speak" just as do human subjects.
Important objects are those with the strongest positive (attractive) subjective
potential : family, teachers, ancestors, divine kings, prophets, angels,
deities, etc. "mediating" when pre-rationality fails to bridge the gap between
what is stable (the architecture) and what constantly moves (the process).
In Ancient Egyptian history, evidence of such interiorization is found in the
Old Kingdom, with its consolidation of kingship and the advent of the theologies
of Re & Osiris. It also explains the tremendous development of Egyptian, from
the rudimentary, archaic cartoon-like style of the Early Dynastic Period, to the
record-style of the Old Kingdom and its Old Egyptian.
Early Dynastic Egypt (ca. 3000 - 2.600 BCE) and the Old Kingdom (ca. 2600 - 2200
BCE) provide us with examples of mythical and pre-rational thought. Incredible
motoric skills and organizational abilities were the building blocks of the
Pharaonic Old Kingdom State. The link between linguistic abilities and cognitive
structure is however pertinent and fundamental.
3. PROTO-RATIONAL THOUGHT
first time stable concepts and relations emerge and the interiorized actions
receive the status of "operations", allowing for transformations. The latter
make it possible to change the variable factors while keeping others
of coordinations forms coordinating systems & structures which are capable
of becoming closed systems by virtue of a play of anticipative and
retrospective constructions of thought (imaginal thought-forms) ;
operations, instead of introducing corrections when the actions are
finished, exist by the pre-correction of errors and this thanks to the
double play of anticipation and retroaction or "perfect regulation" ;
is mastered which causes the enclosedness of the formal system ;
abstraction, new, unifying coordinations which allow for the emergence of a
total system and auto-regulation (or the equilbration caused by perfect
transitivity, conservation and reversibility are given ;
operations are "concrete", not "formal", implying that they (a) exclusively
appear in immediate contexts and (b) deal with objects only (i.e. are not
operatoric structures are not established through a system of combinations,
but one step at a time ;
is paradoxal : a balanced development of logico-mathematical operations
versus the limitations imposed upon the concrete operations. This conflict
triggers the next, final stage, which covers the formal operations.
Thanks to transitivity, a system of concrete concepts arises. It is not
combinatoric (but sequential) and not formal (abstract concept are not
present). Concrete thoughts manipulate objects without reflecting upon the
manipulation. The manipulation is stored as a function of its direct use, not
in any overall, categorial, librarian or antiquarian fashion, although within
a given manipulation a series can be present. The contextuality, pragmatism
and use of the concrete concept is its stability.
Proto-rationality is thus always
limited by a given context. Moreover, there is no reflection upon
the conditions of subjectivity (just as in the pre-rational stage objects
remained psychomorph). This contextualization leaves in place uncoordinated
actions and concepts which are the expression of many serious (fundamental)
The absence of an abstact, conceptual theory means an author has to describe
his subject in every new work. In Ancient Egyptian, the artistic eye, visual
semantics and the rich storehouse of images are presupposed, making it harder
on readers today to understand the underlying message. The contextualization
of the text is the most reliable hermeneutical technique left.
In some case, like the inscription on the
Shabaka Stone, several hermeneutical strands
emerge, for the inscription (of the Late Period) proves to be the copy in
stone of a late New Kingdom worm-eaten copy of an older text (on papyrus), as
thematical and linguistic elements make likely. In each stage of the redaction
of this text (from its lost original, to the older text and finally to the
extant inscription), new layers were as it were put on top of the older, the
result being a difficult blend of ancient and more recent material. Because
Pharaoh Shabaka (ca. 712 - 698 BCE) belonged to a Late Period Dynasty in love
with archaism, it becomes even more difficult to determine which layer was
more original than the other. Moreover, instead of eliminating an older layer,
the Egyptians used to leave it untouched (for it too was considered sacred)
and so they wrote their "new" thoughts side by side the outdated conception
"... the coexistence of
different correlation of problems and phenomena presents no difficulties. It
is in the concrete imagery of the Egyptian texts and designs that they become
disturbing to us ; there lies the main source of the inconsistencies which
have baffled and exasperated modern students of Egyptian religion. (...) Here
then we find an abrupt juxtaposition of views which we should consider
mutually exclusive. This is what I have called a multiplicity of approaches :
the avenue of preoccupation with life and death leads to one imaginative
conception, that with the origin of the existing world to another. Each image,
each concept was valid within its own context. (...) And yet such
quasi-conflicting images, whether encountered in paintings or in texts, should
not be dismissed in the usual derogatory manner. They display a meaningful
inconsistency, and not poverty but superabundance of imagination. (...) This
discussion of the multiplicity of approaches to a single cosmic god requires a
complement ; we must consider the converse situation in which one single
problem is correlated with several natural phenomena. We might call it a
'multiplicity of answers'."
With the advent of the "classical" Middle Kingdom (ca. 1940 BCE), cognitive
(literary) and motoric (architecture, art) attained a proto-rational
expressions of this mode of thought are to be found as early as the Late Old
Kingdom (cf. some sections of the
Pyramid Texts and the
Maxims of Ptahhotep - cf.
Heka), although it was realized as a cultural form in the Classical
Period (the Middle Kingdom). Only then did proto-rationality become a
generalized mode of thought, accepting the individual and his family as origin
of moral justification and allowing every justified Egyptian to exist with
Osiris in the netherworld (cf. the so-called "demotization" of religion).
in Egyptian literature
major stages of growth in the formation of Middle Egyptian
Gerzean ware design schemata, petroglyphs, early palettes
individual hieroglyps, no texts, no grammar, cartoon-like style
Relief of Snefru, Biography of Methen, Sinai Inscriptions, Testamentary
individual words with archaic sentences, a very rudimentary grammar to
simple sentences in the "record" style of the Old Kingdom
Maxims of Ptahhotep, Coffin Texts,
Sapiental literature, ...
Great Hymn to the Aten ...
simple sentences to the classical form of a literary language capable of
The distinctions of genetical epistemology are empirico-formal statements
of fact. The evolutive structure discovered by Piaget has been validated
independently and cross-culturally. The mythical, pre-rational and
proto-rational layers of "early" cognition contain the root-concepts of
reason, the fundamental ontological discourse which is the summary of the
cultural evolution of humankind, and its genuine approach of the Question
of Being. As soon as a writing system was developed, and records were made
(to be found and consulted later), a continuity was made possible.
Moreover, the different steps of the cognitive process can then be linked
with historical evidence.
The mode of cognition given in the Pyramid Texts or the
Maxims of Ptahhotep (early proto-rationality) belonged to
exceptional individuals, such as Pharaoh or his most trusted viziers. But
when proto-rationality got fully established, everybody had a "soul" (cf.
Ba) and became a potential "Osiris NN" (Middle Kingdom). The importance of
a balanced mind was then deemed essential for every deceased (cf. the
judgement scene and the importance of being "true of voice"). The
pre-rational tensions between Re and Osiris were bridged (Osiris is Re at
night) and the first attempt to unify the pantheon was made (cf. Middle
Kingdom Amun theology, where
Amun was both king and judge).
To close, let us compare the fundamental characteristics of African
philosophy & religion (Zahan,
1963 & 1970) with Ancient Egyptian culture, a truly African phenomenon.
Ancient Egyptian culture
The African is basically & universally religious and in constant
relation with nature, the gods, the spirits, the ancestors. He or she
entertains religious relations with other living beings.
It is not a
coincidence that the Greeks saw Egypt as the "land of the gods". The
Ancient Egyptians were truly religious, worshipping the deities for
more than three millennia.
The center of the
world is not the deities or the spirits but living man himself
The center of the
world is Pharaoh, the living god.
A religion of matter :
earth, sky and matter are basic
The materiality &
concreteness of Egyptian religion are obvious.
The person is himself
by virtue of his relations with other persons : ancestors & clan.
As early biographies
show : the person is defined by his role in the Pharaonic state.
Time is cyclic.
Time is based on the
cycles of Sun & Moon.
Union of man & woman
is symbolic of the union of sky & earth, the balance of the world.
All Enneads are
balanced, and the mother of the royal heir was his official consort.
The child is the
object of tenderness and love.
Amarna art shows
incredible tender scenes.
No real theology or
religious doubt. Belief in efficiency of rituals is beyond
Brief & isolated
accounts of doubt occur but even in distress magic works.
Creation is the creation of a distance, pre-condition of
Without Shu, the first division does not happen and no creation would
not be possible.
The distance between
man and the world of the spirit is source of peace and the condition
of possible immortality.
Humans hide, only
Pharaoh flies to the sky. In their temples, the deities are hidden
from the eyes of the commoners.
Aspiration to union with the spirit-world by bringing it down to
While the essence of
the deities remained in the sky, their Kas & Bas may dwell on Earth.
Religion is related to the four elements.
The quaters played a
Sacrifice is the basic religious act.
Only by feeding the Ka
was the Ba gratified.
The main theme of
meditation is life & death.
Everlasting existence was the main theme.
The ideal is the
reincarnation of past in future.
The ideal is the First
Time recreated again and again.
Knowledge is acquired by transformation through initiation (creating a
The Egyptian mysteries
implied stages of growth guarded by crisis & observation.
The African behaved as
a reorganizer of the physical world, its master & rejuvenator.
Pharaoh brings order, truth & justice and together with Re rejuvenates
Let us keep in mind that the level of thought in African environments does
not seem to overcome concrete operational thinking, i.e. the African cultural form
does not yet reach the level of abstract propositional operations
& Othenin-Girard, 1970).
ECLECTICAL MODEL ON
THE HISTORICO-PSYCHOLOGICAL PARADIGM
The work of Piaget, the
findings of neo-Freudian theory (Lemay), Kohlberg's research on moral
development & some major theories on post-formal cognitive growth (Maslow, Tart,
Wilber) yield a genetico-cognitive model which integrates the three main
perspectives on the living human being, namely the cognitive (Piaget, Kohlberg),
the socio-affective (Freud and his school) and the moral (Maslow and
transpersonal psychology). These explain the stability, continuity and
architecture of a system of cognitive relationships, structures & operators.
This part of the model is "vertical", in the sense that it explains how
cognitive structures stand erect. Complementary to this is the approach of
Prigogine, who investigated the horizontal, dynamical features, found to be
irreversible (cf. infra).
Each phase is characterized by
and the complexification of its biological operations, by
or the synthetical symbolizations of these operations, and by
(semantics) summarizing the meanings & intentions which occur as a result of the
activities of a living substance (casu quo the body). See also my
These findings can be expanded in three ways. Firstly, the Piagetian model did
not only prove valid in the psycho-cognitive realm, but can also be used as a
tool to understand the evolution of cultural forms and the crisis undergone by
societies & civilizations (understood as living systems). Secondly, the stages
encountered in the cognitive growth of individuals correspond with the
development of cognition in the human species as a whole (from mythical to
rational thought and beyond - cf. Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the
Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976). Thirdly, stages beyond the formal
stage of cognitive growth (i.e. intuition or intellectual perception) can and
will not be a priori excluded.
The historico-psychological paradigm used in my hermeneutical studies is a
synthesis of Piaget's genetical epistemology and the historical approach of
civilization, seeking the general mental form or forms underscoring the
economical, socio-political, scientific, artistic, spiritual and symbolical
(codified, written) expressions of a given civilization in general and its
overall, common cognitive structure (or cultural form) in particular.
Its main principles are :
originates from action, i.e. coordinated movements. This coordination is a
"form" which is : (a) executed by the biological organism at hand, i.e. its
matter, (b) explained through the interactions with its environment or
information and (c) given meaning by the unique identity or consciousness
typical for each member of a species ;
based on an indirect, functional contact with the physical world, i.e.
thought is always mediated, by a third term (whereas physiological
processes are direct) ;
thought is a
finite process which is an integrated part of a particular living organism
but simultaneously thought is also the extension with which consciousness
may touch the universal, unconditional, infinite & absolute ;
development of thought depends on the successive improvements of the variety
of its abstract forms of equilibration, which is a historical process ;
construction of more stable cognitive forms becomes necessary to resolve the
contradictions which characterize the previous stage, and so they are
regulations of regulations, etc.
the historical development of these equilibrations both individual as social
factors are to be taken into consideration. Society is a system of
activities based on actions which influence each other reciprocally ;
the rise and
development of a cultural form, especially its cognitive features, is
understood as a collective, historical equilibration on a higher, more
stable level of civilization which allows for the construction of new inner
operators (actional, affective, cognitive, intuitional) and novel outer
behavior (as families, societies, cultures & civilizations), eliminating
those tensions which disrupted the development of civilization in an earlier
stage of its cultural development.
complete this model, we need to consider non-equilibrium dynamics or the
notion of irreversible process as developed by Prigogine in the
context of his study of complex, open, communicative & energy-consuming wholes,
i.e. dissipative systems or organizations.
In his famous book, La Nouvelle Alliance (1979), Prigogine poses the
question how highly intelligent systems escape the constant chaotic movements
which surrounds them ? Indeed, Piaget (psychology) focused on the forms of
equilibrium which characterize the relative stability of a given stage of
cognitive development. These forms represent order, structure or architecture
(stability, conservation, repetition). Prigogine (physics), aware of the
entropic qualities of physical systems with complex trajectories (initial
position + dynamical process), emphasized the chaotic dynamics of the
environment and is therefore impressed by the architecture of order evidenced by
complex systems. The fact that crisis (decentration) is necessary to trigger
re-equilibration, as well as the observation that crisis is initiated by
interacting with the environment, were put into evidence by Piaget and are
confirmed by the analysis of complex trajectories by Prigogine (cf.
Both positions are complementary, and focus on a different functional horizon of
complex systems. Prigogine studies the horizontal, dynamical characteristics of
a system, the fact that they constantly reorganize to survive the entropic decay
around them. Piaget investigates the vertical, static architecture of a system,
the fact that it has a strong backbone which is the result of many years of
evolution and uncountable trials & errors.
Both acknowledge systems go through crisis and define auto-regulation (Piaget)
and auto-structuration (Prigogine) as explicative for the continuous
reorganization (permanent reformation) to which highly intelligent systems
submit themselves, especially when the number of interaction with the
environment is large (increasing the arrival of new input). Because
fluctuations rise, more interactions increase the chance of crisis and trigger
Only crisis will increase the survival-needs of a system
and trigger auto-structuration which can be measured as :
of entropy or negative entropy (i.e. negentropy in a galacy largely
composed out of entropic matter). Complex life is a refutation of the "black
box"-model, the "closed systems"-theories and the "stimulus-reflex"-thinking
comprehensive database which allows for more information to be stored,
assimilated and made to work to solve problems ;
coherent field of consciousness, able to attribute meaning to the objects
which are part of it.
montre que plus un système est complexe, plus sont élevées les chances que, pour
tout état, certaines fluctuations soient dangereuses. (...) Il est probable que
dans les systèmes très complexes, où les espèces ou les individus interagissent
de manière très diversifiée, la diffusion, la communication entre tous les
points du système est également très rapide. (...) Ainsi, ce serait
la rapidité de communication que déterminerait la complexité maximale
que peut atteindre l'organisation d'un système sans devenir trop instable."
Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. :
La Nouvelle Alliance, Gallimard - Paris, 1979, p.178, my italics.
communication indeed increases fluctuations, but the latter do not destroy the
system because a critical balance has been realized.
"La taille critique est donc
déterminée par une compétition entre le 'pouvoir d'intégration' du système et
les méchanismes chimique qui amplifient la fluctuation à l'intérieur de la
sousrégion fluctuante." - Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I.
Hence, auto-regulation through the dynamics of conflict, implies both
external (environment) and internal (power of integration) changes. The latter,
vertical aspect of a system, defies entropy as long as it can and this with an
exemplary tenacity. But if no power of integration is operative or if it is not
strong enough compared with the fluctuations at hand, then an increase of chaos
is the most likely outcome. This reduces the existing heterogeneity and variety
to a more standardized and uniform format. It makes the system withdraw and
collapse. For this reduced system avoids communication and hence fossilizes out
of the lack of new input and the absence of auto-regulation.