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Tom ChristensenTom Christensen is a 65 year old, rock climbing, piano playing, gardening, Realtor, father of 4 and happily partnered curiosity addict. His search for an answer to “What is really going on here?”, has left a trail including a Philosophy B.A., South Asian Studies M.A., and additional graduate studies in Counseling Psychology. At one time the whole island of Alameda CA was his Fuller Brush territory; another he was CEO of a 3D imaging company with international patents; 29 years and counting he has operated his own real estate brokerage and management company. Since 1975 he has been writing and speaking about answers to his quest, including being a guest speaker and instructor at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Leading Edge
Cognitive Capacities

Tom Christensen

Through both ontology and phylogeny humans have often created intractable problems and then found themselves with new capacities ideally suited to solve these problems. Following is a proposal of what could be those new capacities needed in our times.

To reveal in the most useful context those cognitive capacities that have newly emerged or become stable in a critical mass of human beings I ask you to suspend your disbelief, if only for the duration of reading here, regarding the following three assumptions:

  1. We have complex, intractable problems that must be solved in order for suffering to be reduced and human potential realized. This applies to the whole spectrum of problems from parenting, relationships, employee and program management, military and corporate strategy, resource management, hunger and poverty reduction, wealth and wage inequality, health care availability, governance, technology distribution, and beyond. We see problems everywhere, and the really complex ones are not being resolved.
  2. The solutions will not be available at the level where the problem was created. For example, to resolve the problem of whether light is a wave or a particle one has to step above the polarities and create a vision large enough to hold them both as true; to resolve the problem of inadequate health care delivery evidenced by its absence in poverty areas, we must move from the question of who deserves adequate health care and who do not, to a transcend and include perspective, i.e. what serves best to reduce suffering and free human potential for the whole Nation.
  3. Human cognitive development has a history of emerging new levels of cognitive complexity that do solve the intractable problems created by the junior level. As the young person stabilizes their identity, in order to get along with other stabilized identities the capacity begins to emerge to defer gratification and to honor objective authority. As the objective rules are mastered and the constraint on individual creativity becomes oppressive, the capacity to see the grey areas, to make creative decisions beyond the rules emerges. As individual achievement sores and is acknowledged, the isolation that accompanies this solo expression gives way as the capacity to include the creative thoughts and feelings of others emerges.

My interest has been focused for some time now on distinguishing what new cognitive capacities may have emerged at this time, that might be ideal for solving the complex problems of our times; capacities that have not been recognized widely yet. Could we have emerged the capacities necessary to solve the problems we have created? There is precedent for this occurrence, giving hope of being successful this time also in finding just those capacities. It is up to those who put these capacities to work to confirm their usefulness. But at this stage I believe I, on the shoulders of many before me, have found some of those capacities and putting them to work intentionally will emerge solutions that are simply not available until we do.

The initial discovery of these capacities occurred in an experiential 3 credit course I taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Fall of 2010, “MultiPerspectival Thinking: Operating with all windows open.” I have written about these capacities elsewhere[1]. I have also on many occasions confirmed they can be recognized when described to highly complex thinkers. You, dear reader, are the next test. Do you recognize your own earlier undistinguished capacities in what follows?

Leading Edge<br>Cognitive Capacities, Tom Christensen

Stabilized Objectivity. General objectivity is technically defined as the capacity to think and feel about one's thoughts and feelings. Stabilized Objectivity extends this notion to the capacity to give up ANY perspective, to be able to move any thought or feeling to an object of inquiry. The human is not defined by or required to own, or otherwise accrue perspectives in order to be. Any thought or feeling can be detached from the sense of ownership, thus freeing one up from many biases, occluding beliefs, preconceptions, and other mental constructions that constrain the emergence of possibilities. As with all of these measures, it is not necessary that these capacities be active at all times, just that they are available at any time for intentional enactment.

MultiPerspectival Thinking. This is the ability to look at an object of inquiry from many different perspectives. For example Said Dawlabani, MEMEnomics, (2013), has us ask what a successful business is: Is it one that is profitable? Yes. Is it one that takes care of people? Yes. Is it one that serves the wellbeing of the planet? Yes. Here we have three perspectives. A less complex thinker will argue over which is right. The MultiPerspectival thinker will review the conditions and measures for each, and integrate them all in the final measure of success. A successful business is one that serves People, Profit and Planet.

The person who is trapped within their ideology, there fundamental truth, cannot bring the full scope of human cognition to solving our difficult problems. It is the mind that can entertain multiple truths, integrate them into a plan, and execute based on this wisdom that can show us solutions that the junior fundamentalist mind simply cannot access.

TransEgoic Cognition. It is very important and useful for the developing human to form a firm identity. However, with just a little introspection we become aware that who and what we are extends far beyond the boundaries of our identity, “I've never acted like that before. How did I know that? I surprised myself.” Further, our nervous system is well known to register and process much more information than we are bothered with at the conscious level…we are up to a whole lot more than we even know we are up to. So that self we treasure so much is a construction that contains a sufficient number of markers to allow us to live as an identity. But that identity can be seen as just one more perspective we can enact, the first person, or “I” perspective. We can take other perspectives and do all the time.

It is the capacity to see and know unhindered by ego, or self-identity, and to do so intentionally that is TransEgoic Cognition. We can think other than thru our construct of self. To think at a junior level, constrained by the consistencies demanded of identity, limits to a lethal degree what we can see and know and dream up about ourselves and our world. We can't solve the complex problems of our time with ego in the way, and we have an alternative capacity.

TransNarrative Cognition. This capacity refers to the kind of knowing we have all at once, and which is not at the time it emerges a linear narrative of information. When we study something for some time, suddenly we “get it”. In that “getting it” moment we don't see a paragraph with descriptive information. We know this something in a volumetric, spatial context. This kind of knowing is more imagery and only with the effort to communicate this insight does it get turned into a linear narrative. With highly complex cognition available this way of comprehending a topic of interest is normal, usual, and much more comprehensive than even the reporting narrative can articulate.

Attunement. When TransNarrative Cognition is enacted, there is a sense or feeling that accompanies this whole, all at once, apprehension. There is information entailed in this feeling. People report the nature of this information in different ways. Some report colors. Others sounds, words, or even melodies. Some report images, scenes, or energies. All convey something that the reporter considers germane to the object of inquiry. The value of these reports is measured by their contribution to advancing the inquiry.

NonLocal Self. The lst person, or self perspective is a construct, and not who the person is. Upon objectifying ego, we still know we are doing, thinking, and feeling. We are still here, and we are nowhere that can be pinpointed. To pin point anything about ourselves is to objectify it, leaving the objectifier still absent a location. The most workable articulation of this phenomenon is to use the term “nonlocal self”. We cannot be located, and we are here. To accept this characterization of one's being is to provide a huge measure of freedom for ideas to come forth unhindered by any concern for what it means to oneself…there is no one we can find that anything pertains to.

A Quiet Amygdala. The 4 F amygdala responses have evolved to focus our resources on immediate threats. We all have experienced diminished capacities for creative thought when, say, an authority walks into the middle of our presentation, or we are terribly nervous when meeting someone, or a loud noise freezes us in place. In probably all cases of amygdala activation the higher cortical functions are compromised: One doesn't compose a critique of Heidegger's identity claims when the enemy is threatening to breach the wall. If highly complex thinking occurs in the absence of fear and threat, there is promise of many more possible resolutions to emerge regarding any problem of interest.

Systems Thinking. The vision that emerges in TransNarrative Cognition is more complex than narrative speaking can convey. Experience has shown that the most complex idiom available to convey the insights of TransNarrative Cognition is that of Systems Theory. I have looked for a more complex narrative idiom to no avail. Manuel De Landa with his notions of aggregation might qualify, but he also veers off into systems theory often in his writing. For now, there is no narrative idiom in sight that can capture the complexity of TransNarrative Cognition as well as Systems Theory. This is not to say that all insights must be conveyed with Systems Theory. Smaller portions of an insight can be conveyed in any narrative idiom; poetry and song included. Imagery can also be put to use here. But if a comprehensive narrative report of the nature of one's TransNarrative insight is desired, for now Systems Theory is the best option available.

It is very likely true that you recognized these capacities as being present when those “magic” moments have occurred for you, especially in a group effort. When “in the flow” or “creative groove”, “at another level”, or basking in the flow of excellent, new, and perfectly furthering ideas, ego is not present, fear is absent, vision is larger than words, you feel the nature of the project as if it lives itself, and you can effortlessly move in and out of any perspective presented or desired. This is not normal. Over a period of 3 million years this is the first time any critical mass of two-leggeds has been able to do this. Why now?

I have proposed that these are eight newly stabilized cognitive capacities and that these have emerged ideally suited to resolve the otherwise intractable problems of our times. I don't have to be right about either of these claims. If these capacities are not anything special, why not? If these are not the capacities we need at this time, what are?

Comments and critiques invited: [email protected] Skype – tomc1243.

Note: The fact that you are still reading this says that you have highly complex cognitive capacities. This is not trivial.


Christensen, T., “Game is Over. You are Enlightened”,


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