Introduction to pragmatic system state theory

systems theory philosophy diagramPragmatic system state theory is a conceptual model of the human experience that integrates general systems theory and pragmatism to produce a framework for practical therapeutic application…

wait…WAIT! I can’t do this. I can’t write this. There’s too much pressure. How the hell am I supposed to fit years worth of thought experiments into a single blog post? But I can’t weasel out… not when I’ve promised a paradigm shift. You’ll begin to feel it as I’ve felt it… or I’ll fail… epically. No escape. Prefrontal cortex shutting down… everything is panic…torture to think… losing my words… mind paralyzed, body fidgety, sweating, fighting to flee this one awful clawing question of how do I write this when words only tell us what we already know?

An idea. Not new, but seen through a different lens and a different language. I am alone, yet I am everything and everyone. I am the least and the most important expression of our universe. My time is infinite, yet quantized to the space of a single breath. In… Out… Each cycle a life lived in full.

Concept One: Our universe is expressed through time as a system – a set of elements that form a whole – whose boundary can be drawn at any expansion beyond a single point. From micro to macro, our nested human system can be subdivided by our human consciousness from single cell all the way out to the edge of our individual viable worlds. Common patterns, energy transformations, and feedback loops can be observed as consistencies throughout the whole.

Concept Two: Regardless of where our own system boundary is drawn by our consciousness, each enclosed element can be conceptualized as having equal, infinite importance to the definition of the human experience during a single quantization of time. All outside elements become environmental concerns. Since all possible boundary descriptions coexist through time, all system elements within our universe possess, concurrently, both infinite and insignificant value to the human experience.

Concept Three: When this conscious system boundary positioning is exercised to increase its flexibility, the brain (mind/personality) trades in its seat as master to become equal in importance to all other system elements in the human experience. If we value our own unique existence, the conceptual conclusion of this equality is unrelenting compassion for all elements forming the total universal system.

Concept Four: Accepting this equality of value allows an individual human to consciously engage with his/her system elements (including the brain’s concept of self) with unrelenting compassion and the freedom to assign importance/influence, ranging from infinite to insignificant, according to the choice of system boundary position. This concept eliminates the cognitive dissonance arising from the conflict between our yearning for universal unity (bliss) and our need to assert our individual importance (ego). What was once a struggle becomes a conscious dance between equally valuable expressions of the human experience.

Concept Five: Pragmatic system state theory is concerned with the development of practical exercises and tools for increasing our system boundary flexibility and negotiating our personal system states – where system state is defined as the communal interactions of a set of equally valued elements within a described boundary during a specific quantization of time.

As with any branch of pragmatism, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Words are just words until they change the way engage with our humanity. A selection of Blank Canvas Living’s upcoming posts will highlight the remarkable therapeutic possibilities of pragmatic system state theory (taking full advantage of current neuroscience and neuroplasticity) in the fields of addiction, mood disorders, relationships, weight loss, productivity… and that’s just the beginning. But for now, perhaps the best argument for this conceptual model is how quickly and efficiently it helped me shift my own system state so I could get my shit together and write this blog post!

The horrifying truth about happiness

smiley face cartoonEver been wrong? I don’t mean “oops” wrong, but completely, horribly, soul scorchingly WRONG? If logic loops and paradoxes are sure signs of a stale paradigm, what happens when our current model for the understanding and pursuit of happiness stumbles headlong into both? Well, dear readers, as you’ll discover below, the answer is anything but pretty…

smiley face When you read any recent scientific article/paper/post about happiness, a common link shines through. Whether describing hedonistic (drugs, alcohol, the ingestion or wearing of whipped cream) or eudonic (volunteering, goal meeting, exercising talents) rewards, there’s always the same sentence squeezed in somewhere: “… causes certain chemicals to be released in the brain.” AHA! Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. The conclusion is obvious: happiness is a function of neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc.). So logically, everything we do, from pouring ourselves a glass of wine after work, gunning for that promotion, taking SSRIs for depression, getting a pineal gland buzz from meditation, to tying ourselves up in faux-fur, is done in dedicated service to that one magical organ – the brain – and its darling little chemical messengers.

Why do people ‘get off’ on different things? Depending on our genetics and environment, we learn to respond to (and thereby pursue) a unique set of glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls. Innate personal activation energy thresholds and social/cultural vulnerabilities help determine whether we end up junkies, or well-coiffed queens of the PTA. Simple enough… or so it seemed until I, young, naive, and as intellectually masochistic as Newton probing behind his own eyeball, decided to test this theory on myself.

Logic loop: If happiness is a modulation of our neurotransmitter levels, and the brain is wired for efficiency, why are all these idiots jogging when they can be…

Within a surprisingly short amount of time I found myself too fat for anything but my Viking man’s track pants, lying spread-eagle with a bad back on a candy wrapper covered carpet, watching reality TV reruns while doped up on a nauseating (not to mention dangerous!) cocktail of alcohol, muscle relaxants, Gravol, painkillers, and – just for good measure – marijuana. Happy? Not so much. Solution? I figured all I had to do was switch my primary goal to longevity, rather than happiness, and train myself on a compatible new set of glamours and insatiables. Since I was already living in a Viable World without heroin (I had to draw the line somewhere!), couldn’t I just exclude my problem glamours from my viable world?

Paradox 1: If food is one of my insatiables, and there can be no viable world without food, how do I escape the efficiency logic loop that led directly to the track pants?

Paradox 2: In a world where there are people who fear public speaking more than death, how can a prefrontal cortex goal of longevity overcome eons of limbic evolution and enforce the pursuit of less than maximum-by-the-moment happiness?

What’s the horrifying truth about happiness? It’s that so many of us have gotten it all WRONG! Solution? Full mind/body/spirit paradigm change. F*ck neurotransmitters! Let’s explore how to live with the brain, not for the brain! Curious? Let me introduce you to systems theory’s naughty little kid sister: Pragmatic System State Theory.

Debating the holidays with existentialist gingerbread men

existentialist gingerbread men“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

What is the true value of any holiday? To strengthen and celebrate social bonds through shared ritual and tradition… D’uh! But wait a sec. What happens when we untether ourselves from our anchoring connections? How can we rank true value in the context of a raw genetic singularity? And if said singularity is coded to produce a system with no patience for pageantry, small talk, or foreplay (just give me a good man with a nice bit of fur), can there be any definitive ‘true hierarchical value’ inherent in the pomp and circumstance of human tradition?

Brains driven to philosophical reaching devote energy to the project not because it’s a laugh-a-minute-joy-ride, but because their rasping against reality becomes insistent, incessant, and incapacitating.Yes, ritual sets a shared stage and defines a common language of experience, but when that stage and language feels so incongruent to our individual system truths (or rather ‘working solutions’), do we just suck it up and play along?


None of us can thrive (or even survive!) as systems in isolation. Insanity can be defined as a system no longer compatible with a larger shared model of reality. A fine line in the sand? Maybe, but a very definitive one. So how far can we push into independent explorations of existence before we risk alienating our most precious resource, our extended system, our loves?

gingerbread cookiesExistentialism posits that personal freedom and conscious value assignment are axiomatically human. But take a closer look at the (decidedly male) brains behind the theory. In their time, with their DNA and experience, existentialism was a perfectly Viable World (What is Viable Worlds Theory?). Schopenhauer got off on music. Kierkegaard rejected the woman he loved, while the only woman Nietzsche loved rejected him (so what if she was already taken). And Sartre, don’t even get me started on Sartre! I can just see Simone De Beauvoir rolling her eyes as Sartre tried to brush off another affair as “not ‘meaning’ anything.”

As a woman, hopelessly romantic and impassioned by ideas, yet equally seduced by sensation and terrified of loss, can I risk that same freedom of intellectual ideation to find my own Viable World? Of course! And I did – when I made the unprecedented decision this past year to skip the holidays (and December’s blogging) and dedicate myself, through a concise set of thought experiments, to compatibility testing a long gestating philosophical framework with current neuroscience in a globalized human community. Miracle of miracles!! After ten long years, on December 27th, at 8:20am (while folding laundry – go figure) the rasping finally stopped!

But what about Christmas? I had to have faith that my loves would welcome their prodigal daughter back into the fold come 2014 – and, graciously, they have. But plugging myself back into a broader system is as frightening as it is comforting. What if I’ve pushed my Viable World too far? I was at the hair salon celebrating the start of this new journey (one in which I hope you’ll share!) when I overheard the woman in the chair next to me say, with full genuine emotion, “…and I just loooove Christmas.” I was suddenly, ridiculously jealous that there are people on this earth who can happily snuggle under the warm blanket of symbol and habit, while so many of us are coded to keep asking “why?”

My back went out when I stood up from that hair appointment – a week and a half later and it’s still hurting like a bi-atch. I can’t help wondering whether, on the verge of massive conscious neural rewiring, my brain/body is trying to hold on to its past, and its struggle. It’s such a girl thing, isn’t it, worrying if something new and wonderful is simply too good to be true? F*ck it! I’ve got the balls to find out!

Nietzsche’s assumption of a ‘true hierarchy’ of values is the ultimate in human arrogance. If you find yourself rasping against your own reality this January, risk asking “why?” and dare to engage with your personal system’s intuitive hierarchy without judgement or hubris. Because, it’s only after honest acknowledgment and acceptance that negotiations can begin.

back painNote: Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, my back relaxed to a state of near bliss (literally overnight!) after first drafting this post. We are truly fascinating, mysterious beings, us humans.