Strange Attractors, Enantiodromia and the Karmic Law

If you followed the unfolding commentary on the previous post, this one won’t add much to what is already discussed there. The extended discussion followed from Dwig’s reference to C.S. Holling’s “adaptive cycle” and the question whether the adaptive cycle says something pertinent and true about the flux of energy and evolution, and also whether it might reveal what Gebser refers to as the “implicit pattern” in the evolutionary dynamic. After mulling it over for a few days, I don’t think the adaptive cycle and Rosenstock’s “cross of reality” (both contenders for that “implicit pattern”) are actually that far apart.

But, let’s address Holling’s adaptive cycle on its own merits and see what it can reveal about the energetic flux or even for illuminating the ever enigmatic William Blake.

Here’s Holling’s representation of the adaptive cycle, and as you can see it also presents a fourfold model of dynamics.

Holling's Adaptive Cycle

Holling’s Adaptive Cycle

The first thing to note about the adaptive cycle is that it is an application of a Lorenz Attractor or “Strange Attractor” that is a basic illustration of the “Butterfly Effect” and an essential component of Chaos Theory (thermodynamics or the energetic flux). The similarities are obvious


Strange Attractor

The pathways taken by an energy entity in the strange attractor correspond to the “nested hierarchies” of adaptive cycles Holling refers to in his description of the adaptive cycle. The phrase “Butterfly Effect” largely takes its name from the peculiar “butterfly” shape of the attractor itself. The attractor is a picture of the saying “big things come in small packages” (or small initial conditions can have very large and unpredictable outcomes or nonlinear effects).

What the Adaptive Cycle (as Strange Attractor) first brought to my mind was that it was a picture of enantiodromia, or reversal at the extremity. That’s beautifully represented in the Strange Attractor and in the Adaptive Cycle. There is a limit to the centrifugal force and a limit to centripetal force, and one is continuously metamorphing into the other. As such, the Strange Attractor can also be considered as an image of coincidentia oppositorum.

Enantiodromia” — or what we also call “reversal of fortune”, “perverse outcome”, “revenge effect” or “ironic reversal” and so on — wasn’t a word available to William Blake (it was coined by Carl Jung in homage to Heraclitus) but the principle is always referenced in Blake’s mythology (“Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps”). Blake insisted that there was a “Limit to Expansion” (centrifugal force) and a “Limit to Contraction” (centripetal force) and these two limits he called “Mercy”. Blake calls it a Mercy because without these limits and reversals, form would dissolve completely into the Void (meaninglessness). In other words, precisely what we call “Nemesis” is what Blake calls, instead, “Mercy”. Nemesis and Mercy form a paradox, another “coincidentia oppositorum“.

If the Strange Attractor is, then, an image of enantiodromia and coincidentia oppositorum, then it must also be a representation of the karmic law of action and reaction, the laws of dynamics and of the energetic flux. And if that holds, then McGilchrist’s description of the “divided brain” in The Master and his Emissary could also be seen as the description of a Strange Attractor, or that neurodynamics also forms a Strange Attractor. So, in that sense, too, Holling’s “adaptive cycle” must also say something about the interactions of the divided brain.

It’s possible to consider Blake’s “fourfold vision” (and his diagramme of that) as forming a Strange Attractor as well,

Blake: the fourfold human

Blake: the fourfold human

And that raises the obvious question of whether Holling’s four stages of the adaptive cycle might have some connection with Blake’s four Zoas, too, and who furthermore live “in the Human Brain” — a rather remarkable insight for a man not lettered in neuroanatomy.

If that is so, the error of dialectics and of dualism too will be seen immediately. It is one and the same energy but in two or more different states. In that sense, it is fine to think of dialectics as reciprocity of contraries (polarities) but not in the sense of oppositions or negations (as Blake says).

Does Holling’s adaptive cycle, as a Strange Attractor itself, say something true about the energetic flux and the implicit pattern of evolution? It probably does. It is, at least, very suggestive for connecting those things that may have previously been seen to have no connection or no “betweenness” as such.

And I’m sure there are even more secrets of the energetic flux for which the Strange Attractor can suggest new interpretations.


20 responses to “Strange Attractors, Enantiodromia and the Karmic Law”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Oooh, sorry I missed the discussion under the previous post, I’ll have to take a look. This is right up the alley of some of the things Tim Winton and I have been working on with PatternDynamics and the role of energy. For Tim this “lemniscate” diagram is very foundational. Check out his paper “The Meaning of Planetary Civilisation: Integral Rational Spirituality and the Semiotic Universe”. In it, he develops the basis of a semiotic approach (with reference to Charles Sanders Peirce and H.T. Odum) to energy gradients that goes some way to exploring the mechanisms for the fact that things ‘wind up’ in complexity.

    Interested readers can find a link to it here:

    And you can find my Inegral Theory Conference 2015 paper called “Patterns for Navigating the Transition to a World in Energy Descent” here: where I discuss energy, energy decent, complexity, energy gradients, and the patterns of order they generate. There’s a 2nd, partially completed paper that I sent to Scott that delves a little further into Holling’s adaptive cycle and this idea that the expansion/contraction and order/chaos patterns are fundamental and expressive of the polarity between entropy and energetic power (HT Odum’s Maximum Power Principle) that both hold each other in check, supporting the idea that “without these limits and reversals, form would dissolve completely into the Void (meaninglessness).”

    • Scott Preston says :

      Crucially important for understanding the flux is the relationship between the y and x axes of Holling’s diagramme — Increasing or decreasing potential and increasing or decreasing connectedness or “betweenness” (McGilchrist’s term) or integration and disintegration, coherence or decoherence.

      Potential and coherence (connectedness) are codeterminate as to the generation and conservation of form. Decrease of potential (loss of energy) leads to a corresponding loss of coherence of form (release). Decreasing connectedness or decoherence, but increasing potential (intensification) is associated with ‘re-organisation’ phase.

      It’s actually a pretty nifty representation of the energetic flux, with potentially many applications.

    • mikemackd says :

      Dear David,

      I can’t get the link to your paper to work, but the one to Tim’s does.

      Best, Mike.

    • Scott Preston says :

      After I slay Fukuyama’s dragon called “End of History”, I’m going to annihilate Wilber’s AQAL model, demolish it, as “deficient integral”. Too Cartesian. Too left-hemisphere. Easy to see why. He’s omitted “Thou” (“You”) from his AQAL model, nor is it cognisant of time (these two omissions are related).

      Not integral. I don’t quite understand how people have fallen under the spell of this AQAL model. It’s inadequate. Annihilating it, though, will be the easier of the two tasks.

      Wilber seems oblivous to the fact that the first person is “You”, not “I”. Before I know my “I” I am continously addressed as a “Thou”, a “You”. As an infans (speechless that is) I’m humanised and inducted into the stream of speaking humanity be being addressed in the “first person” — You.

      Wilber assumes the adult form as “normative”. “I” is still his first person. He doesn’t realise that “I” is the second person, not the first (and perhaps not even the second attention).

      Wilber wants his AQAL model to be timeless. What a PUTZ!

    • Scott Preston says :

      I read Winton’s paper on Planetary Civilisation. Well-intentioned, but misled, I think. Ultimately, self-defeating. That follows from his reliance on Wilber’s AQAL as a foundation, which is only a modified Cartesianism.

      So, given that fundamental error, Winton suggests (appropriate to the error) that integral consciousness compromise with the mental-rational as a development “within” the mental-rational — the old “work within the system” gambit. Winton wants the integral to compromise itself.

      Won’t do. Won’t do at all. The “arational” and “aperspectival” are not “integral rational spiritualism” or perspectivising consciousness simply establised on a new basis. It’s quite the other way around — the mental-rational must compromise with the integral, not vice versa.

      Merely accepting the premise of fundamental non-duality does not make integrality. So as a universal cosmology it’s not going to work. He needs to read Gebser and McGilchrist.

      • Steve Lavendusky says :

        The person is not a static entity, but a dynamic process. We are ‘egos’ to begin with and are called to become persons. The person cannot be objectified. The ego or as we might also call it the ‘Cartesian subject’ on the other hand, which is itself the result of objectification as much as its sustainer, is really only the subject as biological individual, the central actor in the modern turbo-capitalist drama of rampant individualism. The person is essentially an apophatic reality, which refers us ultimately to a trans-personal unitary reality as its root-ground. The term apophatic indicates that it cannot be known rationally, but can only be actively realized in a process of subjectification, a recovery of our latent, inherent spirituality. This recovery implies an opening out both towards the world and towards the transpersonal, spiritual ground of personhood.

      • davidm58 says :

        In terms of how TIm Winton developed PatternDynamics, it was very much from a place of a proper balance of the two modes of attention, and I’ve also observed in how he leads workshops and trainings that it is also very much in play there, although this aspect has not yet been well articulated.

        I share concern about the paper that it goes too far in how it’s presented, appearing to eliminate the role of spirit. In conversation he has expressed that he would change this to at least some degree if he were to re-write the paper. My understanding is that the attempt was to demonstrate that the issues could be approached and communicated to the majority who still exist in the mental-rational structure without needing to include spirit’s role. And to argue against Wilber’s panpsychic approach, which is quite problematic.

        Both TIm and I have various concerns and critiques of Ken Wilber (One of Tim’s critiques here:

        However, we have not thrown the baby out with the bath water. For myself, I’ve learned an awful lot from Wilber, and consider his work an important stepping stone in my own development. One problem has been that in promoting his work, the Integral Institute has (intentionally or not) encouraged the reification of his theory, and folks can tend to get stuck in this “map of the prison” (Wilber’s own words). I do want to note that at last year’s Integral Theory Conference, the people I interacted with represented a variety of refreshing viewpoints, and did not necessarily fall into the party line that is promulgated by Integral Life and The Daily Evolver (yuck).

        Gebser has been a breath of fresh air for me, helping me find my way out of that prison to some degree. FYI, we did have a short discussion about McGilchrist in the PatternDynamics Level II training…I’m going to go back and look that up.

  2. dadaharm says :


    The adaptive cycle also has a straightforward interpretation as a cycle of learning by trial and error:
    Discover something that works (reorganisation), expand on what works (exploitation), formalise and systematize these methods (conservation) and face the limits of your methods (collapse).

    This also gives a way to connect the adaptive cycle to McGilchrist’s ideas about the brain:

    In the reorganisation phase one tries to discover in reality the things and methods that are useful and important. This requires a lot of creativity. This is essential the work of the right brain or the first attention.

    In the exploitation phase one expands the methods that work. So this would be done by the right and left brain in combination.

    In the conservation phase the working methods are systematised and formalised. This is essentially the work of the left brain or the second attention. In this phase everyting that cannot be systematised is ignored. This means that you eventually lock yourself up in a world of your own creation. You could call this idolatry. The sytematisation replaces the reality that it is supposed to represent.

    Sooner or later you encounter something that does not fit into your systematisation. This will eventually lead to the collapse. Of course, this is the myth of Nemesis.

    To repeat myself the conservation phase can be seen as deficient. This is because you have trapped yourself in a single vision of reality. On the other hand you are in control of everything within this single vision or systematisation. So it is also a period of power and (material) richness.

    Personally, I think it is a nice paradox that you can consider the conservation phase both rich (Hollings) and deficient (Gebser). It just depends on your point of view.

    • Scott Preston says :

      I don’t think the conservation phase is deficient in Gebser’s terms either. It is, after all, a basic law of energy. The law of the conservation of energy can’t be considered “deficient”. The deficient phase would be called “inertia” rather. This is clear from the x and y axes of Holling’s diagramme — Connectedness and Potential. As long as the conservation phase serves the increase of potential and connectedness, it is not deficient. Once the energy system has reached its apogee or zenith of potential and connectedness (that is, cannot be any further articulated) then it becomes deficient, but not before that. We would say that at the apogee of its articulation, it has become over-articulated (“dead formula”), and at that point begins to unravel (enters the “release” phase).

      Holling’s adaptive cycle clearly shows the conservation phase ascending still in potential and connectedness until it reaches a plateau or extremity, and then falls off the cliff, as it were (McGilchrist’s “ambling into the abyss”). Conservation has both a positive and a negative aspect. In it’s positive aspect it is persistence or resilience. In it’s negative aspect it is inertia.

      • dadaharm says :


        I guess we will never agree on this point of deficiency. That is o.k., but still I will try one more time.

        First I am not saying that the deficiency is something bad. Not at all. It is just the way it is. In fact, it is something that can not be avoided.

        The increasing interconnectedness of the system (ecology, civilisation, economy, etc.) during the conservation phase is both bad and good. It is good because it makes the system richer, more stable and more powerful. It is bad because it makes the individuals within the system more dependent on the system as a whole. In fact, the individuals specialise and become dependent on the stability of the whole system.

        In the conservation phase the resilience of the system decreases. So even though the system becomes richer and more powerful, it becomes more fragile. You could even say that it is a trap. Once you are in the conservation phase, you have entered a one way road that ultimately leads to a collapse.

        That is why I keep repeating that the conservation phase is in some way deficient. (But that is o.k.. Nothing is perfect.)

    • davidm58 says :

      We can also put this into the terms of what Henry Nelson Wieman called the fourfold event: Emerging awareness (reorganisation), integrating the new resource into one’s reserves (exploitation), expanding or transforming those resources into that new higher quality structure that is useful for the system (conservation)…
      The 4th step doesn’t match up however; for Wieman the 4th step is widening or deepening of community.

      Wieman does, however, talk in other contexts about the need for collapse of the structure in order for new structures of consciousness to emerge. He notes that the sub-events of the creative event is always in process – always and “-ing.” “Emergings, integratings, expandings, deepenings. Once the creative becomes past tense as a “created good,” it starts to become deficient.

      I’ll also mention that as I read his first book Religious Experience and Scientific Method, I’m continually finding ideas consistent with McGilchrists two modes of attention.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I really do have to read this Wieman. I looked at the link and his take on “fourfold events”, which is very congruent with Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral grammatical logic and cross of reality. The “deepening” of which he speaks would be coincident with Hollling’s “connectedness” of course.

        But the issue of regeneration or renewal — that’s something Rosenstock addresses as the problem of intergenerational communications. The various stages of realisation
        imperatival or dramatical (prejective)
        optative or lyrical (subjective response)
        narrative or epical (trajective)
        indicative or analytical (objective the “facticity” of things)

        These have to be repeated with each generation (regeneration or renewal) so that each generation must, as it were, form its own “cross of reality”. So, the role of vital speech is precisely to avoid “chaotic transition”. The young, as it were, must be inspired and recruited (enthused) to reform the cross of reality, and if an older generation fails in this, the cross of reality can’t be formed.

        So, Wieman’s “-ings” have some correspondence with the grammatical forms of language. Imperatives, optatives, narratives, and indicatives exist in grammar so that each generation can form or reform its own “cross of reality”

        Do these have any link to Holling’s “adaptive cycle”. That’s what I’m trying to work out now, and how these “foursomes” might link to the traditional or mythological representations of “the Guardians of the Four Directions”.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    It is sad to speak about earth and remain reluctant to view the earth as a whole. Energy literacy is an earth issue, so are the other crises facing humanity as a whole. Besieged by the den of the western survival,forgetting the exploitation imposed by the western governments on others is unhealthy and will not help to address the human predicaments as a whole. The integral vision as stipulated by Gebser as a solution starts as he emphasizes in ourselves. There is the basic law of self protection which needs to be activated through restraining our selves before we face the restraints of nature as aids becomes a restraint on excess of sex. It seems we are are consumed in dialectics on the expense of the spacious dialogue.It has become very clear that that any human transgression will be faced by a severe natural reaction. Spirit is not a joke, it is the only alternative to the western conditioning. This is the call of all balanced minds. It is unfortunate to see the potentiality of the human are underused and undervalued, misdirected and misguided. One of the sufi said, think wrongly, but please, in all cases think for yourself. I can continue but I want to close with what Goethe said , I am an old man, who had only just learned how to read.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Your comment arrived in my Inbox at the same time as an announcement by John Perkins of his new book New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, which I’m sure will be as revealing as his first book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I just downloaded the new book. That’s my next project, I guess.

  4. davidm58 says :

    A couple of C.S. Hollings quotes I have filed away:

    “It is as if two separate objectives are functioning, but in sequence. The first maximizes production and accumulation; the second maximizes intervention and reassortment. The two objectives cannot be maximized simultaneously but only occur sequentially. And the success in achieving one inexorably sets the stage for its opposite. The adaptive cycle, therefore embraces two opposites: growth and stability on the one hand, change and variety on the other.” (page 6)

    “…a long view of human history reveals not regular change but spasmodic, catastrophic disruptions followed by long periods of reinvention and development. In contrast to the sudden collapses of biological panarchies, there are long periods of ruinous reversal, followed by slow recovery and the restoration of lost potential. (p. 10 / 399)”
    Holling, C.S. (2001). Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological, and Social Systems. Ecosystems (2001) 4: (pp. 390-405).

  5. Dwig says :

    Fascinating discussion that’s arisen here; unfortunately, I don’t have time to properly digest it; I hope to be able to get more into it tomorrow.

    Meanwhile, I think there’s another concept of Holling’s that might illuminate some of the issues that have come: the notion of Panarchy, which introduces the “dimension” of scale (size, nesting) into the picture. Stoneleigh (Nicole Foss), of Automatic Earth, covers both of these at some length in

    If nothing else, the fact that any adaptive cycle is always interacting with others is worth keeping in mind.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    When the human adaptive cycle is no longer resiliently compatible with the divine adaptive cycle as it is manifested in his creation of nature. When the you of the human as Scott said is no longer understand its message or has misinterpreted the divine message through the ego-consciousness, the lower self or the left side of the brain, all kind of diseases are liable to occur. The problem is that the divine adaptive cycle works in slow motion, giving the human the chance to correct his movement before He corrected to him through what is called chaotic transition, a name which I feel inclined to agree with Jose Saramago when he said, chaos is order yet undeciphered. Thoughts must be emancipated from the bondage of the material mentality and enter the realm of the higher self as it is reflected in the right side of the brain.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    The other thing that might be mentioned about the adaptive cycle, should it hold up under closer scrutiny, is that it not only gives a good illustration of the process of enantiodromia, but also of the principle of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. I don’t know of any other paradigm that can cover so many seeming different kinds of phenomena.

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