John G Bell
Systemic Thinking
Spring '04 - Geist

Mental Models

I have the idea that major change has characteristics like a paradigm shift that invalidates the previous view. This implies a kind of catastrophic alteration of state, and I think I tend to make my situation create this upheaval. Then I can avoid ownership of the change by delegating the apparent responsibility for agency to others. It's more efficient that way. This also plays into my sense that there's a horizon, certainly no farther out than two years, past which the effects of change on the state of things cannot be determined. I think this catastrophism also has something to do with creating stress on purpose. I've recognized that I enjoy the stress and rush of activity like theatre and debate. There's an intensity to the experience, but the experience itself is of a condensed kind of reality, taking the mundane bits out. So, it's a stressful production of a stressful event. When I stopped doing theatre, I realized that I had become very much accustomed to the heightened sense of reality in those experiences. However, it's a kind of addiction that mutes and attenuates my normal, mundane experiences. I certainly find that I'm more able to enjoy the small things and events in my life after having been away from the sensory rush in hyper-real worlds of theatre and debate. This sense that change must be experienced as sturm und drang is very much a mental model retained from my experiences of theatrical hyper-reality.

I expect changes to follow a theme and to represent part of a larger pattern. I expect smaller changes to happen in alignment with a larger theme. This precludes or hinders recognizing changes or opportunities that do not follow the larger theme. Since I can only see in the future things which can be framed within my current awareness, the idea that the future will follow a determined arc of change that I see in the present doesn't allow for surprise or innovation. That's a form of control, or the desire for control. When the search for meaning becomes control, that's a form of self-delusion. The control derived from a mental model requires that all phenomena fit within the already known framework of experience. By forcing phenomena to fit already known patterns, I am able to maintain a sense of control and solidity when looking at the uncertain future.

I have a mental model of the period of transition as being something like what is called “Chapel Perilous” and I remember most from Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger. He said, “Everything you fear is waiting for you with slavering jaws in Chapel Perilous, but if you are armed with the wand of intuition, the cup of sympathy, the sword of reason and the pentacle of valor, you will find there (the legends say) the Medicine of Metals, the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher's Stone, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.” (Wilson 1989, 6) To Wilson's arms, I would add the necessity of spirit, as participatory awareness or perhaps as a dynamic equilibrium of the other tools, to the success of this journey. These spaces of transition can be fearsome, but the prepared traveler can thread their way through the dangers an emerge from the other side. The threats of transition are that one loses the will to continue and ends up back where they started, or that the fearsome reality of the transition becomes all-consuming and the traveler becomes trapped in the transitional space. The prepared traveler is able to balance their way between these dangers. The well prepared traveler may acquire special skills and tools on the journey. This is an effective dynamic balance between being too engaged in transition and not being engaged enough.


Wilson, Robert Anton. Cosmic Trigger. Las Vegas, NV: Falcon Press, 1989.