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Observations placeholder

Koestler, Arthur - Janus - The common spider's web making function



Type of Spiritual Experience


Koestler noticed that most of the functions of nature were not procedural, and that the code of the  functions of Nature tended  to describe the constraints on the way the function operated but left open the degrees of freedom  and allowed for 'flexible strategies' .

For example, when we bet on a horse to win a race the bookmaker gives the odds of the horse winning because all the activities – every variable in the long chain of activities which result in the final outcome of the race cannot be predicted.  The condition of the horse, the state of the ground, the rider, the state of the rider, the state of the other horses, the wind direction, and so on all contribute.  There are just too many inputs to accurately predict the outcome.  But it is only the complexity of all these processes that prevent us from accurately determining the outcome. 

A description of the experience

Arthur Koestler - Janus

…. this distinction [procedural versus variable strategy] is fundamental to all purposeful behaviour.

For example, the common spider's web making activities are controlled by a fixed canon which prescribes that the radial threads should always bisect the laterals at equal angles, thus forming a regular polygon.  But the spider is free to suspend his web from 3, 4 or more points of attachment – to choose his strategy according to the lay of the land.  Other instructive activities – birds building nests, bees constructing their hives, silkworms spinning cocoons – all have this dual characteristic of conforming to an invariant code or rule book which contains the blue print of the finished product, but using amazingly varied strategies to achieve it.

Passing from the instinctive activities of the humble spider to sophisticated human skills like playing chess, we again find a code of fixed rules which define the permissible moves, but the actual move is left to the player, whose strategy is guided by the environment – the distribution of the chessmen on the board.....

Speech... is governed by various canons on various levels, from semantics through grammar down to phonology, but on each of these levels, from the selection and ordering of the material to be conveyed, through the formulation of paragraphs and sentences, the choice of metaphors and adjectives, right down to enunciation.

Pianists and lawyers all have different activities, but operate within fixed rules laid down in the case of a lawyer by statute, in the case of a pianist by melodic pattern.  Both can make strategic choices – a pianist's will be phrasing, rhythm, tempo.........

The code defines the rules of the game, strategy decides the course of the game …. this categorical distinction between rules and strategies is universally applicable to innate and acquired skills, to the hierarchies which make for social coherence, as well as to the hierarchies of becoming.

The source of the experience

Koestler, Arthur

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps