Mathematics and Metaphysics

 “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.”

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” —Bertrand Russell

I used to love algebra as a kid. It’s such an elegant language. And it’s based on a beautiful principle: you can do anything to one side of an equation as long as you do the same thing to the other side. Algebra is about equality and fairness. Given recent events, it seems reasonable to suggest that the world could use a more algebraic approach to what’s most important in life.

Lithograph by Emily Bellingham, 2009 |

I am writing this post on the mathematics of metaphysics to encourage deeper thinking on the issues we are currently facing.

As is my custom, I will return again to sources of wisdom from the past—people who discovered and developed different paths for solving the problems that plague us.

I know I need to turn toward and tune into the voices of sanity that call me to tap into my higher self.

For me, two of the most powerful visionaries of the last century were Buckminster Fuller and Bertrand Russell, better known as Bucky and Berty.

Both were mathematicians who dedicated their lives to the study of metaphysics.

Buckminster Fuller was a person who saw the relationship between mathematics and esoteric beliefs.

Bucky introduced the term synergetics, an encompassing concept he used as a metaphoric language for communicating experiences in geometric terms to reference the empirical nature of systems in transformation.

He demonstrated that the behavior of any isolated component does not predict total system behavior.

In fact, components combined together can produce a synergistic effect such that 1 + 1 = 3.

We are clearly living in a world with systems in need of transformation. And we need to remember that random events, like the killing of black people by rogue cops or the killing of white police officers by desperate people unable to find a better channel for their rage and hopelessness, do not predict systems behavior or preclude the possibility of producing synergy among all the stakeholders affected by tragedies. President Obama spoke eloquently about that possibility at the memorial service for Dallas Police officers this week. Bucky desired most of all to prove that the most profound realities in life are metaphysical. This view of life enabled him to give all his energy to creating tools to make life easier without giving any thought to “making a living” or how to afford to do creative work. He believed that metaphysical principles operating in the Universe would provide anyone with what was needed if they chose to give their talents totally to the welfare of humanity. Clearly, we need more people like Bucky in our world today. At the age of 32, Bucky considered suicide because of his failure to provide for himself and the people he cared about.

Instead, he decided to commit “egocide.”

As a result, his life took on a totally new energy and power. Even though Bucky had a firm intellectual grasp of the physical universe, he chose to translate that knowledge into metaphysical wisdom. He spoke to over 400 Universities around the world and received 47 honorary doctorates. He loved young people and felt the hope for the future of humankind was in their hands because of their receptivity to metaphysical insights and their willingness to break free from the prison of measuring life in physical terms: “what’s in it for me, how much will I make, how great will I look?” I can think of lots of people who could benefit from egocide – including candidates for the highest office in the US.

I’m sure even Bucky couldn’t realize how prescient his views were at the time of his death.

Young people all over the world are standing up to dictatorships, abuse of power, gross inequality, and egregious unfairness.

Bucky always felt that humanity is at a critical turning point and that the only solution was to create a metaphysical energy wave to change the present direction of human evolution and to prevent the recurring tragedies that seem to endlessly assault our senses on TV. In his prose and poetry, Bucky was about love. He would be appalled by the hatred that currently dominates the news. It has never been more important in our human history to recognize and express kindness, compassion and love as Bucky did. He was totally inclusive as he expanded his sphere of love. He worked on behalf of all humankind for most of his life to improve conditions on the planet he named Spaceship Earth. Until his death in 1983, his life was a personal experiment to demonstrate what one person could achieve. Here is one of his more poetic explanations of love:

Love is omni-inclusive Progressively exquisite Understanding and tender And compassionately attuned To other than self.

In his 1970 book, To Be a Verb, he wrote:

I live on Earth at present And I don’t know what I am I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing – a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process

What I take from those two verses is that we need to make love an action verb in our lives so that we can evolve fast enough to create synergy rather than suffering.

Bucky believed that specialization is the enemy of synergy and proposed a reframing of culture that would

“get all of humanity to educate itself swiftly enough to generate spontaneous social behaviors that will avoid extinction.”

He thus placed a high value on deep curiosity and generalist knowledge. Unfortunately, we are living in an age of ever-increasing specialization and willful ignorance. As a result, most communications are crisply brief and fragmentary.

Specialization not only breeds feelings of isolation, but also lulls people into thinking that social action must be someone else’s job.

It insidiously creates biases that morph into ideological discord. Our minds are the weightless (metaphysical), uniquely human faculty that surveys experiences stored in the brain and attributes degrees of significance to them. Occasionally, there is an “aha moment” in which a generalized principle crystallizes in our consciousness. The more experiences we have, the greater likelihood there is of adding generalized principles to our bank of wisdom. Here is a quote from Bucky:

Mind’s relentless reviewing of the comprehensive brain bank’s storage of all our special-case experiences tends both to progressive enlargement and definitive refinement of the catalogue of generalized principles that govern all transactions of the Universe.

Here’s an equation we could use to better govern the transactions of the universe:

Progressive enlargement + definitive refinement = generalized principles

Bucky also lamented about the dismal nature of news reporting. He described it as aggregates of fragments. We call them sound bites. He suggested that there is a gross disparity between the actual event and what is reported. Bucky essentially viewed news as polluting our minds, and science enriching our minds. He believed that unguided by science, society is allowed to go right on filling its children’s brain banks with large inventories of competence-devastating misinformation. Sort of says it all.

So let me turn to another source of wisdom, Bertrand Russell. Berty’s life spanned almost a century (1872-1970). During his productive and prolific life he wrote over 70 books. He was a British philosopher, mathematician, political activist, and Nobel laureate. Widely considered to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians, he wrote Principia Mathematica, an attempt to create a logical basis for mathematics. His philosophical essays also had a profound influence on metaphysics.

Berty was a prominent anti-war activist who championed anti-imperialism and went to prison for his pacifism during World War I. He campaigned against Adolf Hitler prior to World War II, attacked the American War in Vietnam, and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for championing humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.

Berty believed that there are truths that cannot be known by direct experience or inference but are known a priori.

Doctrines that are a priori purport to transcend experience and are described as metaphysical. Thus, a system is called metaphysical if it claims to be true independent of sensual or physical experience. In spite of the resistance in the scientific community about metaphysical theorizing, Berty remained emphatically committed throughout his life.

Bucky and Berty inspire us to use our mathematical and scientific thinking, AND also to open up to metaphysical possibilities. It is only through the discovery of unpredicted synergies that we can create harmonious and sustainable systems.

Now let me return to the present and add a third ingredient to my equation for synergistic effects. I am going to add Artie Egendorf to the mix. Artie is a fellow Vietnam Vet whom I have known for almost 50 years. We were the most unlikely roommates you could imagine.

I was a provincial, fresh-faced, Midwestern jock; and Artie was a hard-edged, Harvard magna cum laude, East Coast Jew.

After living together in DC for a year following our return from Vietnam, we went our separate ways and then re-connected a few years ago. I had spent the last 50 years reading Gurdjieff, Carkhuff, Rumi and tons of esoteric literature while running Possibilities, Inc. Artie had spent the last five decades studying mind-body-soul work, writing the award-winning book, Healing from the War: Trauma and Transformation, while working as a clinical psychologist. So it occurred to me as I was writing this post that I had to chance to concoct a high-powered cocktail that could produce unimaginable and sustainable synergistic effects – the Bucky, Berty, Artie brew. You won’t find it at your local bar, but you can create your own mix in the comfort of your home. If you would like to get to know Artie and his work on what it takes to become a Soul Genius, then watch this video (which, by the way, happens to feature Bucky Fuller).

In my work in Corporate America, I see every day the dysfunctional effects of specialization and fragmentation instead of synergies. It’s called silo mentality.

Just stay in your silo, keep your head down, and everything will be cool. Oh, and make your numbers. That mentality manifests itself in sub-optimized customer relations, employee relations, and colleague relations. Customers typically see corporations pushing products on them through seductive advertising, clever marketing schemes, or aggressive sales representatives. Some corporations strive to establish trust with their customers by making their lives easier or bringing creative, new ideas for them to consider. Ideally, synergies could be created through collaboration and co-creation, but that rarely happens.

Many employees in large organizations feel ignored, exploited, or abused by uncaring managers, unrealistic hours, or unrelenting expectations.

Some organizations try to inspire employees through purpose-based vision statements, comprehensive wellness programs, and mindful engagement processes. Ideally, synergies could be created by forming healthy partnerships with employees.

Even within organizations, departments are more likely to compete against each other for scarce resources than to collaborate and seek ways to help each other succeed. Ideally, synergies could be created by thinking interdependently instead of independently.

The point is that we are missing out on synergies and possibilities everywhere we turn. I’m suggesting that, instead of going to the bar after work for three martinis to drown the angst of the daily grind, why not create your own Bucky, Berty, and Artie cocktail and get a real high. I’ll order a BBA please! So let’s apply this cocktail to some false equations that are currently unraveling our social fabric. Consider these three equations:

Black experience = White experience
Investment banker pay = teacher pay
Wealth = widgets

False, False, False.

It appears we need to dust off our algebra books and start applying those mathematical principles to our metaphysical social issues. Remember, whatever you do to one side of the equation you need do equally to the other side. So…When we start investing as much in creating positive experiences for black kids as we do for white kids, then we will start to see the synergistic benefits of racial harmony. When we start paying our teachers as much as Wall Street pays its investment bankers, then we will start to see the synergistic benefits of excellent student-teacher relationships. When we start seeing wealth as the accumulation of wisdom instead of the accumulation of widgets, then we will start to see the synergistic benefits of smart decisions.

Having common sense is a valuable attribute. In most cases, 2 + 2 = 4. Sadly, common sense is all too uncommon and the challenges we face on Spaceship Earth require uncommon, synergistic solutions such that 1 + 1 + 1 = 10 So raise a glass to Bucky, Berty, and Artie – a healthy cocktail that will give you a lifetime high with no hangover. It’s not only a mathematical reality, it’s also a metaphysical possibility. Cheers!!! Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save Save

Also published on Medium.

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Ronny Donny
Ronny Donny

Wonderful Ricky! Great to see (and hear) Artie!


[…] I like to stay engaged; I like to analyze, synthesize, dimensionalize, operationalize, grid, label, name, and produce. You might say I’m a little compulsive. But what I find now, at the end of all my reading, […]


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