Auspicious Reasoning

notes on the quest for creative democracy

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Inauspicious Reasoning

The main purpose of 'auspicious reasoning' is practical. It is part of a metadesign methodology designed to deal with complex tasks, such as climate repair. Habits are sustained to a large extent by our assumptions and the way we reason. Modern democratic discourse still owes much to the several thousand years of Platonic reasoning that was rational and 'truth-oriented', rather than pragmatic. This tradition was evident in the reasoning that emerged through Enlightenment science, when observational detachment was believed to be vital. This emphasis was also evident in recent discussions about climate change in which scientists were repeatedly asked what was 'true', rather than looking for precautionary actions. This differs from more designerly approaches, in which actions are guided by whether a given idea 'works', rather than its veracity.

EXAMPLE 1: In the climate change issue, a more auspicious question would have been outcome-seeking, rather than answer-seeking. E.g. Instead of asking "Is climate change really happening?" we should be asking "What immediate strategies and actions do we need to forestall the possibility of climate breakdown?'' (see our Climate Breakdown Workshops)
EXAMPLE 2: So far, scientists have been able to identify only around 12% of all of the species on Earth. They reason that, unless we can differentiate between species that look almost identical, we cannot know how many species are disappearing. The methodology behind this question is reasonable, but inauspicious, because of the scale and urgency of the task. A more auspicious approach might be to ask how can we re-language the way we determine the value of ancient forests, or the true cost of producing fish fingers. (see article on Creative Mimicry)

Auspicious Practices

In order to intervene effectively at the paradigmatic level it is necessary to explore the many layers of language and reasoning that governs human behaviour. We know by experience that, although most of the gadgets and ideas that currently shape our lives were unexpected, with a bit more imagination and optimism we might have anticipated them. This suggests that the signs of possible futures are lurking all around us. By seeking hidden, intangible, or nameless possibilities we might find more auspicious frames of reference. Hypothetically speaking, with a sufficiently auspicious approach, one might get close to designing miracles.

Some Genres of Political Reasoning

Presumably, the more combative methods, such as 'debate', emerged from a political culture in which competition was an important basis for eliminating 'weak' arguments.

1.Debatingoriginated from (literally) 'beating down' an opponentemphasises winner more than outcome
2.Compromisingsettling differences by mutual concessioncarries sense of shameful retreat
3.Problem-solvingreframing the inauspicious aspect of a situationmay limit one's responsiveness
4.Ameliorationmaking a bad situation (seem) betteroften only a superficial improvement
5.Designingoffering affordances by shaping or arrangingmay seem instrumentalist
6.Synergisingrecombination to create unpredictable innovationsynergy is seldom seen as auspicious

Reasoning That is Deliberately Inauspicious

  1. The Fossil Fuels Lobby has a vested interest in surviving as an industry.
    • It plays a critical role in shaping public policy (e.g. in the UK and USA)
  2. Fossil fuels received $550 billion in subsidies compared with $120 billion for all renewables (2013).
    • Energy subsidies by governments keep fossil fuels prices artificially low, thus encouraging citizens to find economic reasons for supporting the industry.
  3. Confirmation bias is easy to manipulate in communication strategies
    • We all filter evidence through our pre-existing assumptions and beliefs (see Fig. 1)
    • We tend to seek / interpret / prefer / recall information that endorses and sustains our belief system.
    • The language that we use is also likely to colour what we notice and see.
    • square-50cm-spacer.jpg
    • Confirmation Bias Venn
    • square-50cm-spacer.jpg Fig. 1 - the Idea of Confirmation Bias
    • Apophenia is a type of confirmation bias
    • i.e. it is the tendency to find connections and meanings in events and things that, to others, are unrelated.
  4. There seem to be more global warming deniers on the political right than on the left. (Why?)
  5. Disinformation is a deliberate falsification of facts that are part of the reasoning process.
    • (unlike 'misinformation', which is passing on incorrect information by mistake).
    • Many climate change ‘skeptics’ spend a lot of time on climate change denial sites
  6. The Precautionary Principle
    • Some climate change deniers argue that the scientific consensus is only 'scaremongering'.
    • But this seems to put the settling of truth claims above the need to implement the lowest-risk policies
    • Precaution means defaulting to the safer options where significant harm is possible
  7. Conspiracy theories
    • These can evolve to incorporate whatever evidence exists against them
    • They can become a closed system that is unfalsifiable,
    • i.e. "a matter of faith rather than proof" (Barkun, M., 2003).
  8. Pseudoscience probably works in a similar way.

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Cognitive Factors

  1. Cognitive dissonance
    • The discomfort experience arising from the presence of contradictory evidence.
    • This discomfort is sometimes relieved by seeking new ways to refresh the information causing the discomfort
    • Alternatively, the sufferer may actively avoid the (social) situations that generate the contradictions.
      • (n.b. Arthur Koestler (1964) cognitive dissonance can produce bisociation)
  2. Garret Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ theory (1968)
    • The 'Commons' refers to the shared resources
    • The 'Tragedy' refers to the way individuals see their impact on the commons.
    • E.g. if everyone can let their sheep/goats graze on public land 'I' will calculate 'my' impact in 2 ways:
      • A) this extra sheep will make a big supplement to my family's food supply.
      • B) my negative impact on fishing stocks will only be tiny when averaged out for the total number of neighbours.
    • Hardin suggests that our brains evolved when the world was under-populated and teeming with resources
    • i.e. Nature would always always recover from anything we could do to it.
    • Unfortunately, we are still 'programmed' to understand our responsibility in this context.
  3. The Mindset of Large Hierarchies
    • Around 10 thousand years ago Homo sapiens swapped hunting and gathering for farming.
    • Food surpluses enabled us to grow into large trading and warring empires.
    • Five thousand years later we invented unit-based money and alphabetical writing to allow this expansion
    • This began to shift our thinking away from personal 'responsibility' to the bureaucratic mindset of 'accountability'
  4. Denialism - the avoidance of a generally accepted truth or fact
    • this is generally assumed to be because it is psychologically uncomfortable (e.g. cognitive dissonance)
    • In a sane person this would appear as an irrational refusal to accept empirically verifiable evidence
  5. Dunning-Kruger Effect
  6. Belief perseverance
    • maintaining a belief despite new information that firmly contradicts it.
  7. Emotional Reasoning
  8. The backfire effect
    • when new evidence challenging the believer's hypothesis actually strengthens their belief.
  9. tribal partisanship
    • Perhaps humans are genetically pre-disposed to adopting peer beliefs(?)
  10. Attitude polarisation
    • this may happen after the group meets to discuss the views of its members
  11. Group polarisation
    • occurs when a group makes decisions more extreme than the initial inclination of its members
Auspicious Relations
  1. RELATIONS are generally more valuable than either LISTENER or SPEAKER
    • i.e. collaboration is wiser than individual wisdom
    • you can’t have a conversation with less than two
Relations Blockers
  1. a BUT is a small interrupter or blocker of collaborative RELATIONS
  2. a YES is more useful and valuable than a NO
    • a YES usually affords more OPPORTUNITIES than a NO
  3. YES and NO are both bigger than the QUESTION they address
    • YES always refers to the LISTENER as well as to the QUESTION
    • the LISTENER’S UNCONSCIOUS may interpret a NO as a rebuff
    • the SPEAKER'S UNCONSCIOUS may also interpret NO as a call to defend herself
    • a defensive interlude may deflect attention from unnoticed OPPORTUNITIES
    • it can adversely affect the RELATIONSHIP between LISTENER and SPEAKER
    • The act of framing a PROBLEM may also deflect from unnoticed OPPORTUNITIES
Problems and Opportunities
    • because how we frame a PROBLEM will serve to shape its possible SOLUTIONS
    • we unconsciously guide PROBLEM-SOLVING by the metaphors we choose
    • some PROBLEMS can be sidestepped by re-framing or re-languaging them
    • i.e. in framing a PROBLEM - the framer narrows the horizon of perception
  2. most OPPORTUNITIES call out for a situated context in time and place
    • some OPPORTUNITIES call out for the as-yet unnoticed or ill-defined
  3. It may be wise to interpret a PROBLEM as an OPPORTUNITY
  4. It may be wise to interpret a the framing of a PROBLEM as an OPPORTUNITY
Time and Place
  1. The FUTURE is generally more useful than the PAST
  2. There is more potential in the FUTURE than there is in the PAST
    • i.e. the FUTURE consists of more YES and less NO
  3. In the world of OPPORTUNITY-SEEKING only the FUTURE is in focus
  1. In OPTION X - the argument that it MAY NOT WORK - also implies that it MAY WORK
  2. Whether we interpret this statement in a pessimistic, or an optimistic way will affect the outcome.
  3. Adopting an optimistic (rather than a pessimistic) stance makes designing miracles more likely.
  4. An auspicious syntax is likely to be framed in a 'future positive'.
    • Perhaps the least auspicious mode of statement is a moral imperative, framed negatively in the past tense:
      • e.g. "He ought not to have done it..."
  5. By combining these modes of reasoning it is possible to design a more auspicious way of thinking.


Although many studies of ecological relationships and military conflict studies represent only the players who are directly engaged in negotiation or dispute, etc. the context for this process will always have a relevance. What Humberto Maturana calls 'languaging' (Maturana, 1978) is the mutual meaning-making activity by which adjacent organisms first create, then settle on, a workable code of communication. It is important to emphasise that this process is part of each organism's survival repertoire. It is both creative and co-creative. Co-dependent organisms are also likely to depend on others in the food web. Although the conventional idea of 'co-authorship' may lead to a type of (functional/structural) 'coupling' between authors, most publishers, universities, employers focus primarily on the outcome. In some cases, this process is less of a structural mode of coupling if it is characterised by highly cynical, or hierarchical processes in which a team leader will precis and 'edit' existing documents, rather than encouraging the much longer, deeper process of 'structural coupling' that might lead to co-creative innovation by the team of authors. We call this deeper mode sympoiesis (Wood & Nieuwenhuijze, 2006). We defined it using the following performance indicators:

1.AttributableCo-authors can still discern their individual contribution to the finished work
2.Transcendent grey-spacer.png Co-authors agree that the work surpasses what each might have achieved alone
3.SurprisingCo-authors could not have predicted how the work turned out
4.TransferrableOutcomes transcend the original purpose of collaboration

Beyond Sympoiesis

Arguably, sympoiesis could be regarded as a particular form of symbiosis (Margulis, 1998). Indeed, both are special forms of synergy that relate to living organisms. As alluded to above, scientists have tended to map different benefits from coupling into a schema that identifies individual players, rather than emergent benefits for the whole system. I am not an expert, and this is work in progress. The distribution of coupling types into five categories: mutual, commensal, exploitative, amensal and neutral make for a rather limited mapping of how organisms interact (see Rayner, 2012). The term 'exploitative' includes both 'parasitic coupling' and 'predator-prey coupling in one category. Where 'mutualism' describes a RELATIONSHIP that brings benefits to both. While 'commensalism' resembles parasitism in describing RELATIONSHIPS that benefit only one of the organisms, however, without disadvantaging the other. In this case I have mapped the system from the standpoint of other organisms (e.g. summarised as 'the ecosystem') beyond the couplings in QUESTION. This has served to change the conventional taxonomy and indicates the relative unimportance of individuals, within the system.

1. grey-spacer.png +++ grey-spacer.png MutualEcosystem benefits / beneficial to both partners
2. grey-spacer.png ++0CommensalEcosystem benefits / one partner benefits / NO harm to the other.
3. grey-spacer.png ++ExploitativeEcosystem benefits / one partner benefits at expense of other.
4. grey-spacer.png +0AmensalEcosystem benefits / negative effect on one of the partners
5. grey-spacer.png +CompetitiveEcosystem benefits / both partners suffer
6. grey-spacer.png 0++ grey-spacer.png MutualNeutral to ecosystem / beneficial to both partners
7. grey-spacer.png 0+0CommensalNeutral to ecosystem / one partner benefits / NO harm to the other.
8. grey-spacer.png 0+ExploitativeNeutral to ecosystem / one partner benefits at expense of other.
9. grey-spacer.png 00AmensalNeutral to ecosystem / negative effects on one of the partners
10. grey-spacer.png 0Competitive grey-spacer.png Neutral to ecosystem / both partners suffer
11. grey-spacer.png 000NeutralNeutral to ecosystem / NO benefits or difficulties for either partner.
12. grey-spacer.png ++ grey-spacer.png MutualDamage to ecosystem / beneficial to both partners
13. grey-spacer.png +0CommensalDamage to ecosystem / one partner benefits / NO harm to the other.
14. grey-spacer.png +ExploitativeDamage to ecosystem / one partner benefits at expense of other.
15. grey-spacer.png 0AmensalDamage to ecosystem / negative effects on one of the partners
16. grey-spacer.png CompetitiveDamage to ecosystem / both partners suffer

Relative benefit/loss chart for different types of coupling