General Semantics Advanced Thinking
A System-Discipline Concerned with the Sanity of the Race & the Individual
A Universe of Rhythms

by Milton Dawes

To paraphrase Korzybski: In a world of diversity and change, when we discover something that seems to remain relatively invariant, then we are unto something of great significance and importance to us in understanding ourselves-and-our-world. “Relative invariance under transformation” is a general-semantics generalization of the important scientific and mathematical principle “Invariance of principles and laws under transformation of frames of reference “. I propose that “rhythms” like “structure” constitute such an invariance.You could think of “Relative invariance under transformation” as a fancy way of saying something “A” is structurally similar to, is like, some other thing “B”. And also another way of saying “Although “A” has changed, broadly speaking, there are some features of “A” that have remained relatively unchanged.” We are “talking relative invariance” when we say “Like father, like son”. Laws, rules, regulations, policies, mission statements, maps, etc., can all be considered examples of the relative invariance principle. (Times, location, personnel, etc., might have changed, while policies, rules, etc., might not be updated – sometimes detrimentally so). Metaphors, analogies, models, explanations, theories, maps, etc. can also be considered examples of relative invariance.

In addition to the various ways we have been writing and ‘thinking’ about objects, and our perception of objects, we can also apply the relative invariance principle to increase our understanding of this process. To facilitate this approach, I invite you to imagine you are observing a very densely packed swarm of bees: and imagine that you don’t know, and cannot see, that there is an invisible barrier (let’s say, a star trek-like force field) that surrounds and move with this swarm; creating a boundary which cannot be crossed by a bee. Now visualize what you might observe watching this swarm from a distance, far enough away so that you are unable to see individual bees.

Now imagine a very large number of densely packed interacting and interrelating subatomic particles, each moving at tremendous speeds in diverse directions. Also imagine some kind of force field accompanying this ‘swarm of particles’. This force field prevents most of the particles from flying off in all directions as the bees would without their surrounding force field. (Now don’t be picky here. I know that a swarm of bees tend to stay together. So imagine an unruly swarm that ignores the rules of swarming). In terms of “relative invariance ” this eventful subatomic activity, this swarm of particles, can be likened to that swarm of bees. We could now consider an object as “A structure that remains and appears to us relatively unchanged through all the various changes of directions and movements of its constituent ‘parts-ticles’. A structure that remains topologically relatively invariant through all the tremendous activities and energetic interactions of its constituents”. Now for a change of rhythm. (By the way, I invite you to see if you can sense other changes in rhythm while reading this story. Keep in ‘mind’ that “rhythm” is not only about sounds and music).

“Relative invariance” is very much involved in the communication process. Communication works well when what I think-feel is well represented by what I say. And what I say, or intend, is well received, and represented, by a listener’s interpretations and meanings. The principle is also useful in helping us to improve our general understanding of various, seemingly unrelated features, of our world. If for instance, we knowthat something “A”, is like some other thing “B”, then knowing something about “A” can help us to understand, expect, and even make predictions about “B”. The principle of relative invariance under transformation constitutes a fundamental characteristic of scientific activities. Living and non-living systems exhibit the relative invariant cycle of coming into being, growing, and eventually declining or going out of being. We often, to our distress, ignore this relative invariant rhythm, when we expect “a good thing to last” or remain the ‘same’.

Another area where the relative invariance principle can be useful has to do with our notion of “self”. So let’s suppose the ‘object’ we are examining is our “self”. In terms of the principle, a “self” can be considered as “Those aspects of a human organism that remain relatively unchanged through a diversity of changes and transformations of other aspects of the organism”. Each one of us can determine for ourselves, what we have discovered in our own thinking-feeling-behavior-attitudes-beliefs-values-needs-fear-pleasures- and so on, that have remained relatively unchanged over the years, and places. (The hyphens serve to emphasize the interrelatedness of these various factors).

Speaking for ‘my self’, what I have discovered as an invariant over the many years and different places, involves what I describe as a “persistent drive to understand two things: What this universe is about. And consciousness.” With respect to this, and applying the relative invariant principle, I have arrived at a place where I evaluate “rhythms” as one of the most invariant characteristics of universe. (I am still working on consciousness). You might recall Korzybski’s “Structure is the only content of knowledge”. Well if we include the time factor, this statement can be translated to “Rhythms (structure and structural changes) are the only content of knowledge”: You only have to remember that “structures change over times and places”.

“Rhythms” can be considered in terms of ” a measure of structural transformation”. And ”structural transformation” can be considered in terms of how a system changes with respect to different times and places. Terms related to ”measure of structural transformation”, include “frequency, vibration, pitch, cycle, wave, recurrence, periodicity, pulsation, variation, rate of change, patterns of change, fluctuations, speed, (change of position with respect to time), how often, ups and downs, going with the flow, to everything a season, comings and goings, among others.

Our personal and more easily observable rhythms involve our swing and sway, and various other movements when we walk, for instance. When we are abroad, criminal types recognize us by the way we walk, look around, and so on. Our rhythms are different from the rhythms of the ‘natives’. We recognize friends, acquaintances, and others, from a distance, and in not so well lit places, by the relative invariance of their movement rhythms. The pitch of our voice, our intonation, our speaking speed, when we are being affectionate, or when we are excited, angry, distressed, nervous, and so on, illustrate variations in rhythms. We move around differently when we feel good, compared to how we move when we are not feeling so good. We listen, learn, understand, eat, sleep, do a variety of things, and so on, at our own pace. We recover from physiological and psycho-logical injuries, at our own pace. (Some of us may be very forgiving. And others may hold a grudge for a lifetime. Some groups hold a grudge for centuries.) Other rhythms involve our personal, domestic, social, work related, and other habits and activities. Age differences, social standing, moods, and so on, find expression in our rhythms. In our many relationships, personal, intimate, social, cultural, political, international, etc., an invariant source of a variety of problems, conflicts, and disagreeableness, can be attributed to a “clash of rhythms”.

In the workplace for instance, more and more employers are beginning to recognize that some individuals do not shift easily from night shift to day shift. In international politics, many politicians, not having a knowledge of, or caring about differences in rhythms, often create social-cultural-economic- and other problems that persist for many years. This usually occurs when certain practices or policies are imposed on another, without allotting sufficient time for a change in that culture’s rhythms.

On the road, many accidents occur when a driver makes a sudden stop, or lane change, or change in speed. In general, sudden changes in rhythms, that do not allow sufficient adjustment time for others often create problems. In medicine, some doctors are beginning to recognize that some medication and treatment and operations are more effective at certain times of the day. The rhythms of adults are usually very different from the rhythms of little children. But the rhythms of grandparents often seem much more adaptable to the rhythms of little children even more than the mothers and fathers. ‘Nations’ exhibit rhythms, observable in their level of economic, population, international stature, military, etc., growth and decline. We could define a culture in terms of relative invariant behaviors of a ‘people’ in terms of beliefs, speech patterns, music, dance, and so on. There are cameras that produce sharp pictures, despite shaky hands. Although I know little about the technology involved, I would take a bet that the invariance principle has been applied. The recording industry would not exist without some application of the relative invariance principle.

In our everyday living and interactions, our communication with others, in our efforts toward self-development and self-improvement, etc., how often we are conscious of our abstractings (remembering that we have not included all in our experience, interpretations, beliefs, verbalizing, etc.) can make a very big difference.

As human individuals, we literally disturb each others rhythms This cannot be helped. If we live in the ‘same’ world, and interact with each other, we will ‘disturb’ each other’s rhythms to lesser and greater degrees. And sometimes, we react quite strongly to such disturbances.

In terms of “rhythms”, a characteristic of a ‘good’ house guest is, the person who does not move things around, leave things lying around, do things etc., which requires a host to put things back, pick up things, undo things, and so on. In other words, a characteristic of a ‘good’ house guest is, “a person who is sensitive to, and does not unduly disturb the rhythms of a host”.

Sometimes, we even disturb our own rhythms when we push ourselves too fast, and too much. And when we take on more than our psycho-physiological systems can adapt to in a given time period. When you are waiting impatiently for someone, or for something to happen, you can be sure you are experiencing a difference in rhythms. And when things don’t go the way we expect them to, or want them to, look for a difference in rhythms as a possible source of the problem. We often create much problems for ourselves as individuals and as a species, when we attempt to hurry the universe, or “push the river” – and sometimes when we dam it. But through awareness of, and a sensitivity to rhythms, we can some times create a harmony of rhythms – at least for a while: For would you believe it? Rhythms have rhythms. In other words “rhythms” like anything else also change.

Here is another way to get a ‘feel’ of rhythms. Imagine a tree, or better yet, look at one: a tree with lots of branches and leaves. ‘Observe’ the variety of movements and rhythms. If there is a light breeze, the leaves might be doing a fluttering dance like the leaves of an aspen. This will be different from the rhythms of the smaller branches; which will be different from the rhythms of the bigger branches. If it is a very big tree, the trunk may not show much movement , or any movement – but it also has its complex of rhythms Can you specify a rhythm for the trunk? And another rhythm of the leaves? And can you ‘think’ of any structure that cannot be associated with a complex of rhythms?.

In other words, I am proposing , ”Everything, as far as we know, can be thought of in terms of rhythms”. And that ‘thinking ‘ in terms of rhythms is not just a “philosophical exercise”, but also has practical benefits. ‘Thinking’ in terms of rhythms can be very helpful in improving our personal and other relationships. Including “rhythms” as one of our management tools can help us better avoid and manage stress; become more patient with ourselves, and develop more patience, tolerance, and understanding in interacting with others. In solving problems, and making decisions, including ‘rhythms” as a variable could be an important move. For instance in many everyday situations, we often create our own problems by not asking ourselves such questions as “How often has this happened? Is this something that is likely to happen again? “Is there a major difference in rhythms involved?” And so on”. A sensitivity to “rhythms” can improve our judgment, help us to anticipate and manage change, recognize trends, and much much more. And now for another change in rhythm.

You may recall the wise old folk saying “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. Or this one: “Don’t cross the bridge, ’til you come to it”. This was about “rhythms”. Don’t you ‘think’?

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