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Sand Talk Review and Discussion

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Presentation to Melbourne Emergence Meetup with placeholder for short video: https://vimeo.com/388799004 and vertically scrolling portrait orientation view from hand back to Cumbo replaced by start, mid and end stages.

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Sand Talk Review and Discussion

  1. 1. Sand Talk How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World (Tyson Yunkaporta 2019) review and discussion of fundamental complexity Tony Smith Melbourne Emergence Meetup 13 February 2020
  2. 2. Sand Talk’s Table of Contents is chapter symbols thrown into a container. Any attempt to map its structure to Superveni- ence would be missing the point. Each is its own whole exposing a common set of issues for saving Life. So the next slide is just a reminder that Sand Talk talks to our ongoing project.
  3. 3. Too Funny for Words Abstractions, Category Errors, Epistemic Cuts Life on an Active Planet The Two-edged Sword Multiple Paths to Emergence Constraints and Degrees of Freedom Birds and Others Interweb to Facebook Better than Out of Control Information, Maps and Territories Urban Hydrology out of Sight Going Down with the Egg Basket Self-organising, Adaptive Codification and Communication Exploiting a Dissipating Gradient: creaming, trickle down Dystopian Utopias and Science Fiction Towards Healthy General Knowledge The Inside View: knowing when you're dreaming Verbal Blindness Accepting Cosmological Responsibility
  4. 4. Sand traces many stories
  5. 5. Having given most books I’ve deemed worth reviewing five stars, Sand Talk deserves the Pleiades. Sure this may sound like extreme confirmation bias, though we come from such contrasted backgrounds that I should start by noting the few things we have in common.
  6. 6. Tyson and I were both born and are now based in Melbourne, Australia. We are both male. We are acquainted with Lynne Kelly's breakthrough work linking oral memory systems, ancient monumental architecture and mnemonic devices. We both see the world through the lens of complexity and context, though found that platform via disparate journeys, and that is the basis for my excitement, having spent much time expounding the problem for complexity studies of most finding it from within their own silo and trying to subsume it into that context. But now Sand Talk suggests to me that those fracture lines may be just one more undesirable consequence of colonial triumph through divide and conquer tactics rather than any more fundamental cognitive limitation.
  7. 7. The introductory chapter draws on the echidna having the largest prefrontal cortex relative to body size while reluctantly providing biographical and basic cultural information claiming Tyson is “still a reactive and abrasive boy”, as uninitiated only having “the cultural knowledge and status of a fourteen-year-old”. But by 47 his song line journeys, much yarning and wood carving had provided the breadth to allow Sand Talk’s subtitle to accurately assert: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.
  8. 8. Having once waltzed with a narcissistic emu at Kyabram Fauna Park, I jumped into his next chapter’s account of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu being expelled from the land and held down by the creatures of adjacent constellations, Bruce’s front cover endorsement insisting like me: “Read it.” After my immediate rereading to substantiate this review, that chapter now has more highlights marked, and some borrowed, than any other whole book I’ve read. It goes straight to my number one diagnostic: the systemic failure of adversarial political and legal systems in the face of intrinsic vulnerabilities to gaming, a perversion which has been applied mercilessly against indigenous peoples in quest of short term political and financial goals. They have always had much better ways.
  9. 9. Next he contrasts first peoples’ view of time as cyclic with second people’s emphasis on the arrow of the second law of thermodynamics, particularly the latter’s implication of the unsustainability of growing cities, the civilisations and states built on them.
  10. 10. The subsequent chapter skirts around the oxymoronic Western concept of intellectual property, especially the oversimplifications that replace the viable complexity and diversity lost through traumatic system collapse, such as post-invasion.
  11. 11. The fifth unnumbered chapter is “Lines in the Sand”, to me ever entangled in recognition of our culture's encouragement to draw them just behind your heels, but Tyson immediately hitting the temporality of progress misrepresented as permanence. While my techno roots see patterns as an objective, Tyson takes “young Aboriginal protégés” on searches for the patterns in the connections between things and how they might apply them “beyond the bush”, sharing the story of one kid seeing how sand sucked from beaches to make concrete will return to the sea. He recognises that the sciences are starting to incorporate complexity theory while still ignoring its implications about “external design and control”.
  12. 12. Beaches and waves naturally sort materials, bringing similar grades together, but sometimes they bring the ingredients of concrete together to form new rock like concrete, whether at Mud Island or here on the Great Ocean Road coast, with broken shells, long the raw material of industrial lime and cement, sand, and stones.
  13. 13. Mud Island 2 March 2019 Mud Island 23 November 2019 Boggaley Creek 14 January 2020 Godfrey Creek 14 January 2020
  14. 14. Next he turns to Spirit, a term it has taken my Atheist instincts seven decades to come to terms with, but which Sand Talk has made me comfortable with his use, one that a fringe of supposed Free Thinkers can’t deal with, having failed to see beyond disinformation passed down by self-justifying missionaries. While celebrating the vital role of metaphor in the search for meaning, Tyson insists it is an area to be careful. Then he tackles the false beliefs about “primitive” cultures head on, exploring the role of Yarning in the inspired consensus production of indigenous knowledge, contrasting stories about what happened with views of the wider context seen through that critical lens, just what should be expected of his academic role as “Senior Lecturer Indigenous Knowledges” at Deakin University.
  15. 15. That context-setting leads into his Prussian story which, while he deprecates it, might be the most accurate summary of North Atlantic nation-states’ colonising history ever written, accounting insightfully for the sidelining of adolescence and with it the disproportionate incarceration of aboriginals. That story deserves a review and maybe a book of its own, but isn’t the only one.
  16. 16. The context setting issue of why we should let any of this strange information interrupt our comfort zones is exposed through his reflection on his own difficulty accepting what elders are sometimes telling him, exemplified by his instinctive luddite rejection of mobile devices before accepting his need to “embrace these things as part of creation” lest he miss important patterns. Sand Talk is peppered with learnings through discussions with thought leaders around the continent and the globe, typified by an excursion into anarcho-primitivism to see past “cultural white noise” to investigate dominant culture appropriation of indigenous cultural artefacts and expose the neurological development processes which are derailed by schooling’s structural attachment to compliance and discipline. iPhone GPS gives Hand location
  17. 17. A rich range of drawn symbols are essential to the book, etched in the boomerang on the cover and negotiated by drawing them in sand, clearly having a close relationship to hieroglyphs and elements of other non-phonetic written languages. A chapter explores five distinct bases for thinking, from the foundation of relationships to the ultimate goal of recognising patterns of indigenous thinking, the foundation for high- context culture of location-aware knowledge contrasted with low-context colonial knowledge which overrides differences in quest of universality.
  18. 18. This leads into a chapter with examples from areas as basic as health and food of the difficulty of communicating within a colonial framing which misrepresents indigenous reality as a tactic of self- justification, then brings these five kinds of thinking into basic relationships which are in turn mapped onto the five digits of a hand, a memory technique which could come out of Lynne Kelly’s Memory Craft.
  19. 19. Each chapter calls on an interlocutor with whom Tyson yarns and who is quoted to make key points. The next invokes Kelly Menzel, “an Aboriginal woman from the Adelaide Hills and a keeper of ancestral Indigenous Knowledge” and is about the always challenging topics of relationships and violence. In an era in which even Extinction Rebellion preaches nonviolence, he makes the fundamental point that the only reason we are able to distance ourselves from violence is because we have outsourced it, advocating a world in which everyone is able to defend themselves rather than surrendering the means to a privileged few. Having said much of aboriginal women’s competence in such matters, he gives Kelly the last word: “Collectively we need to break free from the bondage of Patriarchy, white privilege and the misogynistic structures that control us.” If not the aim, the method might be a challenge for social justice warriors.
  20. 20. The next chapter opens into the heart of our common understanding of complex systems with interaction between forces, whether physical or social, as the basis for creativity through “the natural processes of self-organising systems”, suggesting opportunities for “innovations through dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Knowledge systems” that may divert civilisation from its destructive course. He finds no words for “safety” and “risk” in Aboriginal languages because they defer agency to “the mercy of authorities” and applies their two protocols for protection, personal and group, to expose the fragility of colonial financial and legal systems, the latter via exploration of a “bush lawyer” view of sovereignty, noting the time in 2018 when all inmates of Northern Territory juvenile detention were Indigenous. This leads to exploration of the Indigenous Sovereign Union movement with trepidation that it might still risk the same blueprint for destruction, but by “Anglo economic systems administered by men with black faces.”
  21. 21. The final two chapters each provide guidance for action, albeit very different in scope, and each introduced by stories of great Australian bureaucratic misjudgements of the 21st Century. One builds on the Murray-Darling Basin problematic to encourage a fire-like cleansing aimed at enabling a person to be in place with contextual awareness across all scales.
  22. 22. The last starts with Tyson’s personal story of his idea for Indigenous Knowledge Centres taken up with resources but in its implementation degraded into tourist traps, and provides a guide to also encoding fundamental knowledge on the knuckles of your hand by a method Lynne Kelly would be proud of. This necessarily longish review only scrapes the surface and Sand Talk is similarly just scraping the surface, only sufficiently to reveal big picture context to those who come to it with respect. Rare acknowledgements of Gadubanud as the first people of the Otways found at Crayfish Bay, Princetown, Lake Elizabeth
  23. 23. Bruce Pascoe is half right when he says: “Read it.” To that I'd add: when you think you’ve finished, Read It Again! Even somebody as in synch with it as me needs later bits to get anything like full value from earlier bits, not that there could be any better ordering faced with the linearity of the medium. If we want Life and the best of humanity to have a viable legacy, Tyson's brave and brilliant book needs to become a common base for all the kind of contextualisation and exploration that much more forgettable texts have been granted to prop up colonising cultures. Sand Talk is a telling of biblical proportions right when we need it to lay Genesis 1:28 to rest and replace it with a foundation for returning to Life before we kill it all.
  24. 24. https://vimeo.com/388799004
  25. 25. Suggestions! Questions?
  26. 26. Full quote as P.S. One student in particular develops a high level of understanding of pattern thinking that he can apply to most problems. In another session, he is present on an excursion to a beach that is eroding into the sea and must be fortified with concrete and sandbags to protect the buildings and property there. The children are asked to design an engineering solution to the problem. It seems as though this boy is not engaging with the task. He stands under a clump of she-oak trees and stares out at the sea while the others draw and build models of walls and spits and elaborate engines. A non-compliant student, looks like. Misbehaving. Maybe I should punish him, humiliate him in front of his peers until he complies with the work task. He is not achieving outcomes. Not delivering against performance indicators to close the gap. I walk over and ask him what is going on. ‘Well, it’s all fucked,’ he says. Maybe I should pull him up for inappropriate language. Instead I ask him what he means. He talks about what he’s learnt from Pop Noel about the she- oak trees and underground freshwater flowing beneath them where they grow like that on the coast. He points out those flows into the sea and tracks the subtle movements of the sand out there in the tides and currents, tracing the pathways of constant motion all along the coast, infinite white grains swept up and deposited on new beaches in cycles of cleansing and renewal. He points out a spit in the distance that has been built to block that flow and keep the sand on one beach for its residents, noting that new sand can’t be deposited here now because of it. He mentions dozens of other constructions like this along the coast, and the dredging of sand further out to sea to deposit on the beaches and maintain them as real estate and public facilities. Then he turns around and points at the buildings, observing that they are mostly made out of concrete, which is made mostly out of sand, much of which is dredged from the ocean floor leaving holes and gouges in the seabed that fill up with sand again. That the sand moves around in its cycles, but never makes it back to the beach. Or worse, the seabed slumps into those holes and the beach then collapses further into the sea. ‘You can build all the levies you like, but those fuckin’ buildings are gunna go back into the sea where they came from.’ Well. As I always say, if you want to find the next generation of great thinkers, look in the detention room of any public school.
  27. 27. Exploiting Complex Systems Thriving within or collapsing beyond tolerance limits Are compulsion or capitalism cancerous? Do concrete or cars harden arteries? Tony Smith Melbourne Emergence Meetup 12 March 2020
  28. 28. Update from Lynne Kelly I am immersed in a co-authoring with Margo Neale, Head of the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at the National Museum of Australia. They are rebranding everything with ‘Clever Country’, and producing a set of six books to be published by Thames & Hudson over the next few years. I will be working with the NMA quite a bit over the next year or two. Margo and I are leading the series with a book titled Songlines, based on the really successful exhibition she curated at the NMA, Songlines: tracking the Seven Sisters. https://songlines.nma.gov.au Rare recoverable graphic from short-lived Clever Country Co-operative Limited’s 1992 report on: Effectiveness and Potential of State-of-the-Art Technologies in the Delivery of Higher Education