Complexity, An Emotional Processing

from Brian Atkins,


Your pet died.

Your dad died around Christmas the previous year.

Mortality says hello, and goodbye.

Yellowstone-the-Super-Volcano could blow at any time, climate change threatens mass instability across numerous domains, eco, econ, political, and what we do so well in the West, eating. 

You know that longer bouts of systemic instability sometimes release stored, pretty automatic DNA-vehicle responses to crisis. Talking about those time-tested-and-selected apps-on-file, apps like: murder, war, rape, genocide, plunderous anarchy . . . all that wholesale social-contract breakdown stuff where there are no Tony Hayward yacht races because everyone’s a pirate.

Your superficial understanding of physics and neural physiology has revealed a probable lack of free will, that you’re largely bacteria, some amalgamated bi-pedal ecosystem toiling in a parallel universe in some obscure fork in one river of time. Regardless, your life’s events will be swallowed whole by death, and promptly forgotten. So, if you miss your third child’s fourth school-play . . .

The reaction to all of this, when you’re not busy running yellow lights, builds, spreads. This reaction can be metaphorically summarized as an increasingly demanding voice that, depending on the day and your anti-depressant dose, whispers or screams: WTF.

Friends, and enemies, allow me to offer you this interview as an evo-balm for your enervated complexity-navigation systems. Verily, you can learn here. Verily, big truth is pretty. And this new economic system called Net Planetary Value (NPV) appears most aesthetic. Hope in the holarchy, bioootch. Death will still swallow us, but now, all that cruel DNA tyranny of past domination struggles can mean something.

Oh my dudes and dudettes, verily, more ubermensch light can be generated for our overcoming. Further from the caves of our often sad and horrific evolutionary permutations we can run. . . . all those people broken on the wheel, burned at the stake, impaled on a shaft from their anus through their mouth and left in the sun . . . all those people bombed, gassed, starved, stoned, knifed in lung and heart, shot, whipped, overcome in their own feces in the dungeon, on the slave boat, eaten alive by lions or ants, and yes, all those parking tickets too, all that shit, can now, most gloriously, by way of NPV, mean something . . . help tame that WTF feeling . . . if only for a moment . . . (longer if you grasp the concept.)

Your internal dialog can now transition like this:

The Voice: WTF; You module: Something.

The Voice: WTF; You module: Shut up, I’m thinking.

The Voice: WTF; You module: NPV!, NPV! In your face, extinction troll! 

Net Planetary Value is a new, still emerging structure in cultural evolution. While it can’t cure Yellowstone of its bubbling, gonna-blow heat, I sincerely think it could be a huge evolutionary leap for how our species interfaces with reality. NPV appears to be evolutionarily compatible, at least to this psyche’s limited processing engines.

Like the evolutionary process, NPV solves problems, lots of them. Like the evolutionary arc, NPV processes more information, faster. It also increases the speed of feedback between components in the holarchy. NPV can help us grapple with the exponentially accelerating complexity by standardizing, and hopefully, optimizing, relationship interaction information. Relationships? Remember what the good polio Dr. said. “The most fundamental phenomenon of the universe is relationship.” He said this, too: “Evolution has proceeded along the course of optimizing relationships.”  Jonas Salk

NPV is an evolved relationship weight matrix, a postgenetic code for better navigation of complex cultural relationships, with one another, rivers, soil, Mars, animals, technology, education, etc., much like the genetic code was a relationship weight matrix seeking to optimize complex bio/geo relationships, enzymes for rice, meat, and milk, toenail thickness, offspring gestation protocols, etc.

It’s like natural selection is this huge computer, this huge mind processing info, selecting; this works, that doesn’t. Everyday, hell, every moment is judgment moment in the complex systems’ constant corrections, adjustments, in the ceaseless holonic ordering . . .

Info processing . . . you’re processing this code, these letters. Natural selection processes the code that generated the blue feather or gray fin. Does it work, does it fit, does that G code (condensed information set), and concomitant feather or fin, work in conjunction with all the other holons?

Relationship processing. All the holons be doing it. Verily, See Jane Process Dick, do that sexual selection thing.

Net Planetary Value frothed forth from an artist, an outsider, a culture particle on the fringes. Naturally. Memetic-speciation happens faster with an isolating mechanism.

Larry Chang grew up in Jamaica, a gay Asian. I’m all like: “Larry, so you’re a gay Asian in Jamaica coming of age in the early 1960s? Dude, could you put a few more outgroup rocks in your way?” Larry Chang laughed. He navigated all them rocks most adroitly, and, as he had to, went to art. Studied fractals. Sustainability, too. Read David Bohm, Capra, Wilber, Buddhist wisdom, published anthologies, and . . . Net Planetary Value emerged. It’s brilliant. Can’t stop your death, but it does provide hope on the group selection, Tragedy-of-the-Commons level, and far beyond. That’s something. That counts.

So, to help our species move beyond this painful teenagers-in-evolution stage, and in honor of all the people, plants and animals who have suffered, or whatever might motivate you, please spend some quality time with the artist Larry Chang. See how he fits pieces of the complexity together in new forms that can augment our survival and well-being.

Yeah, we probably don’t have free will. But we can learn. There’s been selection for the ability to review the past and do things differently the next time (Robert Trivers told me so). We have the capacity to load the brain-box with new information-structures, ruffle them cranial modules’ neural pathways by learning, learning that generates creative behaviors that solve problems. Behaviors that include Larry Chang’s Net Planetary Value? We’ll see. Process on fellow holons . . . 


Ken Wilber’s All Quadrant All Levels (AQAL) schematic provides an appropriate cosmological framework to demonstrate how NPV integrates into life as it is, and will likely become. The evolutionary impulse has brought us to the present point which can be a pivot allowing a transition to a different stage. As we transcend to another level, we include all of the gains realized from previous levels. This is the way of holons in a holarchy.

The value index preserves and facilitates the ethical standards of equality, equity, justice and transparency. Socially, we nurture and provide for the least among us, while providing the space and resources for the full blossoming of human nature. Structurally, the environment is preserved and protected, resources are rationally managed, and institutions expand support for the best in learning, training, housing and healthcare, with the technological innovation that is part of our evolutionary response.

This locates NPV in the second tier of Spiral Dynamics as described by Wilber:

  • Intuitively grasps the entire Spiral of development, and thus understands that each meme is important
  • Grasps big pictures, global flows, universal networks
  • Discovers personal freedom without harm to others or excesses of self-interest
  • Sees integrative and open systems, holistic meshworks
  • Reintroduces vertical hierarchy (or ranking) along with horizontal heterarchy (or linking)
  • Works for both the enjoyment of self and the good of the entire Spiral of development
  • Basis of integral commons

The paragraph following right after sums up the second-tier yellow and turquoise memes, the final levels of the Spiral.

“‘Scales fall from our eyes and we can see, for the first time, the legitimacy of all of the human systems (the first six memes) awakened to date. At the same time, viability must be restored to a disordered world endangered by the cumulative effects of the first six memes on the earth’s environment and populations (since all of those first-tier memes are at war with each other). This integrative view facilitates the movement of people up and down the flowing and fluid Spiral. This produces a recognition of the richly layered dynamics of human systems operating within peoples and societies. If purple is sick, it needs to be made well. If red is running amok, the raw energy must be channeled. If blue structure is devastated, it needs to be restored. Since many of our social messes are caused by interaction of people at different levels, such messes can only be sorted out through an understanding of the integral Spiral itself.’ With second-tier consciousness, such an understanding becomes possible, and a genuine wholeness finally becomes a living reality.”

Ken Wilber, Boomeritis: A Novel That Will Set You Free, Shambhala, 2002


Britain’s rejection of the Euro agreement may give an indication of the willingness and rate at which countries will adopt NPV as the tool with which to manage their economies.

The current European crisis only underscores not only how much politics and economics are intertwined, but also the pervasive extent to which banking and corporate interests control the fate of nations. British Prime Minister Cameron’s defense of sovereignty is nothing more than a protective move for City of London, Britain’s equivalent to Wall Street, against external regulation. The shared currency is also lending Germany moral authority over Greece’s comparatively laid-back approach. If these enlightened countries cannot co-operate in monetary matters, would they do any better with a universal Net Planetary Value system?

In the first place, there will be no currency, common or national, to give rise to differentials,  inflation, devaluation, deficits, or any of the multitudinous variables which give rise to international friction. Each country’s NPV is simply a reflection of what each contributes. It is possible that Greece with its history, archaeology and contribution to the foundation of Western thought, in addition to its other resources, would come out ahead, thumb its nose at Germany, and relax into its more leisurely lifestyle. NPV actually restores a degree of sovereignty to countries, freed from the shackles of banks and corporate interests.

Precisely because financial interests so closely control governments, the countries of the developed west, especially the UK and USA, will be least likely to adopt NPV. Like Iceland repudiating its debt, countries like Greece and the other PIGS could very well decide to opt for a system that gives its citizens universal education and healthcare, feeds and houses them. They would not have to worry about meeting IMF, World Bank or European Central bank conditions, or balancing budgets to engender investors’ confidence. Each country remains free to continue or adopt whatever form of governance its national idiosyncracies determine.

The developing world will readily recognize a good deal where the welfare of their citizens is safeguarded and they are not under the thumb of the money-gougers and resource extractors. The newly formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, led by Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil, expressly omits US and Canadian participation. Resistance to US hegemony and corporate capitalist incursions may be the goad for these countries to abandon the monetary system, regain their sovereignties and release their peoples from wage and debt slavery.