What is Translibrium?


The object of the pilgrimage turned out to be a pilgrim.

– Jorge Luis Borges



In 1986 I was involved in a reconnaissance of evolutionary biology. I was doing an undergrad at Trent University with a focus on the origins of consciousness (!?). I had been buried in grand speculators on the history of civilisation; Oswald Spengler, Pitrim Sorokin and Arnold Toynbee, with a nascent sprinkling of Teilhard DeChardin.

Amongst the historians Toynbee stood out for me, in large part because he was reviewed in an obscure book called ‘Experiment in Depth: A Study of the Work of Jung, Eliot and Toynbee’ by a Quaker, PW Martin, which I had stumbled on in a second-hand bookstore. Martin’s premise from reading the three authors was that cultural transformation and renewal were realised by individuals going through a quest-like ‘creative withdrawal’ from society, initiated and guided (called out) by an intrinsic creative source that Martin called ‘the deep centre’, followed by a ‘return’ to society now informed and inspired by a rejuvenated and compelling symbolic language and imperative.

Toynbee’s contribution was through his encyclopaedic survey, briefed in ‘A Study of History’, of the rise and fall of multiple civilisations, by which he derived a theory of ‘challenge and response’ to explain how and why some societies thrive and others don’t. For Toynbee the success of a civilisations was dependent on its capacity to respond to grand challenges. Civilisations succeed “not as a result of superior biological endowment or geographical environment, but as a response to a challenge in a situation of special difficulty which raises [it] to make unprecedented effort.”

From the grand historical syntheses I drifted over to Systems Theory and Cybernetics, and then from there over to evolutionary biology. And it was a first reconnaissance of that field that turned up the central thesis and nom de plume for much of the field, ‘homeostasis’.

The concept of ‘homeostasis’ was first described by Claude Bernard in 1865. Bernard held that the basis of organic survival is ‘internal fixity’. Organisms respond to challenges by returning to their original state; the ‘fixity of the internal milieu’, as he called it.   “The constancy of the internal environment” wrote Bernard, “is the condition for free and independent life.” More than half a century later, following on Bernard, the American physiologist Walter Cannon coined the term ‘homeostasis’ in 1930 to describe the ‘steady-state’ that any system requires to “maintain a constancy necessary for survival.” Internal homeostatic processes resist external pressures to maintain internal fixity. This notion quickly spread out of biology to find applications in the world of social sciences in general, and particularly Systems Theory and Cybernetics.

I had a problem with this notion of ‘homeostasis’ as a description of health.  I was an etymology junky and knew that ‘homeo’ is from the Greek meaning ‘same’ or ‘similar’, and ‘stasis’ means, you guessed it, ‘stasis’.  There was nothing that I had ever observed that could survive by staying the same or static.  So from my perspective, the notion of ‘homeostasis’ – a return to an internal fixity – was an excellent descriptor for the conditions leading to death.

Philosopher/Biologist Henri Atlan provided me with an alternate model and language.  Atlan understood organisms to have the capacity for self-organization; for emergence and newness.  In the language of biology he called ‘challenges’ ‘perturbations’. ‘Random perturbations’ are temporary disturbances to which an organism can react, neutralise, and then return to it’s original state. ‘Structural perturbations’ however are persistent, even terminal, disturbances through which an organism can survive only by elaborating a new structure.  Returning to the original state would result in obliteration.

Organisms need to continuously evolve, and their evolution creates stresses – challenges – for surrounding organisms, which must also evolve. Challenges require responses which will normally require subtle shifts in behaviour.  Greater challenges will require significant modifications, permanent structural shifts, or even full-scale migrations of identity.  Health is not the maintenance of fixity: fixity, and fixation, are fatal.  Health is a dynamic feedback requiring constant alteration, and renovation as well as periodic bouts of drastic innovation and structural transformation to respond to potentially catastrophic disruption.

As Heraclitus (is said to have) said, “You never step into the same river twice.”
And, I would add, we are all rivers.

Translibrium’ is a word I invented as a counter to ‘homeostasis’.
Trans’ comes from the Greek ‘across’, and ‘librium’ is from the Greek ‘libra’ which connotes both balance (equilibrium) and freedom (‘libre’, liberty).  Whereas ‘homeostasis’ assumes a return to an initial state as a descriptor of health, ‘translibrium’ assumes continuous adaptation as a requisite for survival.  Whereas ‘homeostasis’ emphasises returning to ‘fixity’, ‘translibrium’ emphasises a perpetual path of transformation, in response to a basic milieu of emergence and feedback, requiring novel strategies frequently characterised by an increase in complexity.



This fragment – an accidental improv featuring Greg Hopen on saxaphone, Jordan Wallace on bass, Dave Kimpden on drums and Nik Beeson on guitar – was recorded live off the floor in Dave Kimpden’s drum studio by a boombox around 1997. Nik’s voiceover was added a couple of months later.


climbing without ascent
running without advance
were you thinking about dying?
or are you dying to be reborn?

Mississippi River twisted meandering - Harold Fisk map

One of Harold N. Fisk’s amazingly beautiful charts of the twisting meanderings of the 2,320 mile long Mississippi River in 1944.

Between the straight line of evolution
and the circle of revolution,
in a held tension,
is a gyre.
In tension, creation,
In tension creation,
In tension, creation.
Snake advances by vacillation along the ground,
gyrfalcon’s wings beating up and down.
In the greatest tension, the greatest creation,
and the greatest creation is the gravest danger,
and destruction is tension held taut beyond limitation.
Taut ’till broke,
bent ’till rent,
the acrobatic art
splits apart,
and the acrobat

The fearsome fire white hot burning up,
white knuckled clenched fist gripped tight,
the teeth that grind in the night.
The parched string screaming taut,
bow pulled,
shivering back,
bent to point of rent,
the piercing pointed
arrow of light,
seams bursting,

Enantiodromia through the wall that is the inside of an egg.
Primal instinct in integration with x-ray vision.
A bow of hope pulled to the tightest taut,
bent to the quivering razor edge of rent,
knocked with an arrow that was blackest coal
but through fear’s anguished energy
was crushed, fused and crystallised
into a piercing pointed diamond
of sharpest compassion.



Howlings – ambient electroacoustica – now available on CD Baby and iTunes!

Homeostasis, Change, Addiction & Love

This IGNITE Talk (5 mins, 15 secs per slide – GO!) was presented at the Web of Change Conference Sept. 2013, at Balcones Springs just outside of Austin, TX. Huge thanks to the WOCMob for welcoming this errant pitch!

In response to my opening statement “I’m curious why orgs and people fiercely protect outrageous poisonous bullshit that will kill them, while resisting change that is blatantly obviously healthy and liberating.”, I trace an origin of ‘Things’ – conceptual, biological, then psychological – asserting that ego is a ‘homeostatic’ entity. I propose that ego is built up by ‘habits’ cycling around core desires, and that addiction reifies into a ‘cyclostatic’ resistance to change. Addiction is self-generating and delusional, both of which are relatively good descriptions of many orgs resistant to, for example, climate change science. Addictive structures, functioning in denial, are also exceedingly resistant to love, whose nature is revelatory. Situations where love directly encounters addiction are typically ‘apocalyptic’.










God & Science

GodEvolutionConsciousnessIf God is defined as the most fruitful relationship possible between consciousness and evolution:
Science is God’s sandbox.
Science is God’s workshop.
Science is God’s kitchen.

Evolution’s a process of designing

Evolution is both a design and a designer; it’s a process of designing.