Precession and the power of the side effect

Many years ago I came across Richard Buckminster Fuller’s masterpiece ‘Synergetics’. Buckminster Fuller is now a household name, genius, geometer, mathematician, generally a superb thinker, inventor of the geodesic dome and numerous other brilliant ideas.

Synergetics is hard going and contains some mind boggling ideas. I spent perhaps six months reading it and building his models in stick magnets, ping pong balls, wood and rubber bands.

Many of his ideas have stuck with me, but one has really permeated Apogeniks, and it is the idea of “Precession”.

The notion is simple. When a force is applied to something it tries to get out of the way.  It doesn’t sound much, does it – obvious really. So how can something so obvious and simple give rise to anything specially useful?

The answer is in how the ‘getting out of  the way’ appears.  This is far from obvious, and yet holds the key to learning anything.

Take a simple situation.  Suppose I am changing the wheel on my car.  I jack up the car and I am just about to unscrew the bolts when the car rolls forwards and falls off the jack.  It’s a silly mistake – forgetting to apply the handbrake.  But why do I need to do this? Because the car wants to get out of the way of the jack, and will do so given the slightest opportunity.

But take a look at what is visible. I want to get the tyre off the ground.  I do something (jack it up). The tyre ends up back on the ground two feet to the left with the jack on its side.  What I mean here is that the form of the failure does not look like the solution to the problem.

If I knew nothing about cars and jacking them up I might be tempted to think there was something wrong with the jack, or I had installed it the wrong way.  But the solution to the problem is to stop the car precessing out of the way.

In physical actions, the same things happen.  Say I’m trying to unscrew a stuck lid from a jam jar.   I’ve often seen people trying to do this, clenching their teeth, gripping the lid until their knuckles are white, holding their breath – etc etc.  You are probably quite familiar with that.

But none of these behaviours contribute anything at  all to opening the jar.  They are all precessive behaviours, side effects of my failed attempt to open the lid.

In Apogeniks, the primary target is precessive behaviours – unwanted side effects of an intent.  

In one of Conan Doyle’s stories, Sherlock Holmes explains that once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

The parallel in Apogeniks is, once you have eliminated precession, whatever remains is the happening of your intent.

So in the lid example, the Apogenik approach would be to focus on the teeth clenching, breath holding etc.  Once these behaviours have gone, the lid will unscrew, without apparent effort.

Sounds ludicrous doesn ‘t it? But I’ve tried it thousands of times, and it always works.

The basic format for using precession is to implement the intent at a very low intensity and with an Holmesian attitude of alert watchfulness, for it is at this level that precessive effects are clearly visible.  I often liken this to an engineer applying a tiny strain to a system to observe how it behaves.

This attitude is initially not easy to maintain.  It requires discipline. Many people are swept away into ‘forcing’ their intent to happen, and so completely overlook the precession.  Alternatively someone might notice the precession, interpret it as failure, and ‘have another go’ – which is perhaps where the ghastly “try, try again” principle has come from.  Each of these approaches discards the precession as an inconvenience, something ‘wrong’.

But this is such a waste.  For that precessive behaviour is your passport to the joy of effortlessness.  Transforming it from the base lead of frustration to the gold of success is true alchemy.

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