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Combining the imaginary and non-rational, with knowledge, to create real solutions

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the resonance of Life

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Viewing the world from a perspective of understanding

The world presents us with many challenges and a robust approach for dealing with them is through understanding. Understanding enables us to anticipate the consequences of our actions and thus avoid missteps. As the central element in all our global risks is us, more effective means of handling those risks may come through an improved understanding of ourselves. This book’s objective is to nudge our understanding forward and, thereby, assist in our search for pathways to a viable future.

Who am I to weigh in on such a subject as human behavior and our situation in the world? Being an engineer, many will view me as nothing more than an audacious fish out of water, balanced high in a tree on a brittle branch. What might I have to say that hasn’t already been said by philosophers and theologians of the prior millenniums and behavioral scientists of recent centuries? Indulge me for a few minutes, and let me show you.

How did I get to where I am?

Sunday School: The Story of Noah’s Ark - While often failing, I have always striven to make sense of everything, to understand how things fit together. Imagine a child sitting on the floor in Sunday school listening to the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s an interesting and memorable story, but something about the water doesn’t sit right in the child’s mind. Where did it all come from and where did it all go? Forty days and nights of rain may add up to a lot of water, but it didn’t make sense that the quantity of water it would take to cover the Earth could appear and then disappear. As a child, I would have never openly questioned the story, but I hadn’t believed it.

In my Sunday school days, I could not have given a clear rationale for unbelief in the flood; my thinking was not mature enough to state an opposing belief that the universe’s fundamental behavior, its physics, does not change. The creation of the flood waters was inconsistent with the basics of the water cycle, not to mention conservation of mass, but at the time all I sensed was that something didn’t add up.

Making My Way Along Life’s Path - Years pass by, always with an eye toward trying to understand, always working to make sense of what is observable in the world. Work hours are spent in environments where the expectation is that the behavior of objects and materials is consistent and that the rules describing that behavior are either known or can be developed. If something doesn’t behave as expected, it is because either the rules are not adequately understood or something is not being considered. Whether hypotheses and designs work or don’t, the underlying fundamentals are always consistent.

Slowly, in trying to understand why people behave as they do, a refinement of the idea that people like to have control of their lives develops and takes hold. Stated concisely: People strive for control of the world in which they live (subsequently referred to as the CWL hypothesis). By “world in which they live,” what is meant is that each person has, in effect, their own personal world. That world consists of their own being and those portions of their environment that they pay attention to and interact with. “Control” means the ability to transition from particular circumstances in which a person may find themself to more desirable ones. This hypothesis is not a dramatic idea, actually rather obvious and commonplace at the surface level, but it gains strength with how deeply one digs into it.

The CWL Hypothesis

People strive for control of the world in which they live. If you patiently follow this idea, watching where it goes, you find it goes everywhere. To borrow some words from Nietzsche, it seems to crawl “into the very heart of life and into the very roots of its heart.” Nietzsche was describing his “will to power” concept, an idea I see as a sibling to the CWL hypothesis.

And So? - Why should anyone care about having a fundamental understanding of why they do what they do? For most people, most of the time, understanding what lies at the core of their desires would make no difference. People mainly deal tactically with life’s challenges by using approaches that follow well-worn paths. If we are cold, we might put on a sweater or turn up the heat; if we are hungry, a trip to the kitchen, store, or restaurant is likely; if we want to keep money in our wallet, we get up in the morning and go to work. A rereading of those examples may be necessary, but it should be noted that they all assume we have positioned ourselves to be able to respond in the given manner. Without explicitly thinking about it, and while not always successful, we work to arrange our lives so that we can respond to the needs that present themselves. We both instinctively strive for control of the world in which we live, and in a casual sense recognize that. Most of the time that is sufficient, but there are situations when clear and explicit recognition would be of value.

Our situation in the world is often not of our choosing, and we simply do our best to deal with (i.e., strive to gain control of) situations in which we find ourselves. However, there are other times when we can select that “world” in which we live. For education and vocation, I selected areas of science and engineering. Striving for control was not explicit in my thinking when I made those decisions, but it was implicit in my selections. In my younger years, people were confusing to me; the formulas of physics were not.

For the reader of serious non-fiction, what are they trying to achieve with a book’s purchase? Book selection and the simple act of sitting down and reading is a means to select/define the world in which they will live for a while. If the book is good, it will draw them along and provide a combination of information and understanding, enabling improved control over some portion of their broader world beyond the book.

What if the CWL hypothesis could help provide a coherent explanation to such questions as the following?

Would such a book provide value to the reader of serious non-fiction? Under the assumption that the CWL hypothesis is correct, the answer is clear. In our striving for control, the significant dollars spent on education is a testament to the value placed on improvements in understanding.

Hopefully, the reader has found value in what has been related thus far. However, the CWL hypothesis is not the summit; it is the necessary staging area for the remainder of the journey.

Beyond the CWL Hypothesis: The Conflict - A Fundamentally Human Problem …

Has No One Been Here?

Honestly, it seems odd that what I think I understand is not well-trodden ground. Haven’t others already considered these things? Nietzsche left some marks in the area, but it seems he came up a little short of bedrock and then lost his mind. Alfred Adler picked up some of Nietzsche’s thinking but did not move in the direction of the CWL hypothesis. This hypothesis is so simple, so basic to our behavior, so valuable for understanding, and so far-ranging in its implications that it seems impossible it could have been known without being noted.

Here are three possibilities on which others must pass judgment: 1) I am wrong, and the CWL hypothesis doesn’t explain what I think it does. 2) The CWL hypothesis has been hiding in plain sight; seen but not recognized. 3) Some have recognized it but then turned away. Either they weren’t quite persistent enough, or they carried mental baggage that blocked their view. Why might that be? Complex behavioral theories are dull enough in their application that they pose no threat to the typical person’s basic beliefs, particularly how they deal with the conflict (mentioned above). That is not true of the CWL hypothesis. In its simplicity, it very cleanly, perhaps too cleanly, exposes the protective sheathing we have constructed around our fundamental conflict.

Who Is This Book For?

To paraphrase a bumper sticker, “Crap happens.” Some piles, like earthquakes, storms, and diseases, have their roots in physics and biology. With those types of things, we have some understanding and there are measures we can take to at least partially shield ourselves. Other piles, like our never-ending conflicts (religious and otherwise), degradation of our environment, and economic trauma, have their roots in human behavior. This book is for those who are tired of the latter kind and desirous of a means to reduce, or at least better understand, the load we are obligated to carry.


In E. O. Wilson’s book, Consilience, he talks about the “Ionian Enchantment,” the “conviction … that the world is orderly and can be explained.” Wilson quotes from an Einstein letter, “It is a wonderful feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena that to direct observation appear to be quite separate things.” While the “Enchantment” may have had its beginnings in physics, Wilson states it “extends to other fields of science as well, and in the minds of a few it reaches beyond into the social sciences, and still further … to touch the humanities.”

If Wilson was right, perhaps it’s reasonable that a thrust into the humanities, applying pressure towards consilience, would come from the direction of sciences having a tradition of striving for unity. Maybe the present author is not an audacious fish out of water stuck high in a tree on a brittle branch. Perhaps he is simply a worker of puzzles, striving for control through the development of understanding, endeavoring to present the world with a view from a different perspective.