-- / --
Clarification of scope
Symptoms of the problem
Cultural determination of information processing
Skewing between languages and cross-language equivalence
Determination of information processing within languages and cultures
Modelling inter-linguistic discontinuity
1: Interpretations of cross-cultural information processing implications of Hofstede study
2: Difficulties in the transfer of information between languages
This paper explores the influences of implicit or unconscious filters on the
question of information overload and information underuse. There appears to
be relatively little research into this question and therefore the paper attempts
to identify a number of
'points of entry' through which the dimensions of the question can
There has of course been a great deal of research into the semantic and psychological aspects of communication breakdown but in recent years this has tended to emphasizes communication as a 'people process rather than as a language process' (1, p 205).
Basically the issue appears to be one of the consequences of differences in methods of expression, conception or learning. This is typified by differences in cultures and languages. But both culture and language need to be understood in their broadest sense in order to recognize the dimensions of the issue. In particular it is not sufficient, as is usually the case, to dismiss 'culture' as being of negligible influence on information processing or as constituting a barrier which can be easily overcome. Nor is it sufficient to consider the information implications of differences of 'language' as easily surmountable by a variety of translation procedures or the adoption of a common language. It is precisely the prevalence of such 'superficial' attitudes, together with the remarkable sophistication with which data can now be manipulated by computer, telecommunications and surveillance technology, which has led to the assumption that any associated difficulties are purely of a technical nature. The assumption is reinforced by the interesting results already achieved in work on machine translation. This paper attempts to demonstrate that the momentum of the technical approach to information, and the associated investments, have drawn attention away from fundamental problems which are vital to any effective response to the issues of information overload and information underuse.
It should be stressed that this paper is not primarily concerned with the implications of different languages or cultures as social phenomena. Such differences are viewed here as the more easily recognized manifestations of a more fundamental problem. But precisely because of their more recognizable characteristics, concern with such characteristics has tended to obscure the conceptual problems implied by such differences. It is these conceptual problems which are to be found in other arenas in which differences are not so clearly demarcated, as in the case of languages or cultures, and where they are therefore even more easily ignored or dismissed.
Recognition of these issues is rendered especially difficult because any apparent success in describing them within one conceptual framework or language effectively obscures the nature, depth or subtlety of the differences. These can only be begun to be appreciated through the process of switching to some second framework or language. The difference is appreciated experientially in the contrast. Its quality is lost to a great extent in explanations of it within one or other framework. Hence the ease with which the significance of such differences can be denied. Possibly only much later, or when it is too late, is it appreciated how people, groups and organizations develop implicit areas of non-communication which contribute significantly to the problem of information overload and information underuse.
As suggested above the issues can only be effectively explored by examining
them within a broader context. This necessitates a broader interpretation of
'concepts'. However, in the light of the theme of this paper, it is
neither possible nor desirable to present definitions.
(a) Language: In this discussion 'language' includes:
This broader sense may therefore be considered as covering any systems of expression
capable of conveying or filtering patterns of significance. It therefore combines the two
arenas (whose distinction is lost in English but retained in French) of 'langue'
and 'langage'. This broader interpretation is consistent with current
recognition that ordinary language, whether written or spoken, is only one member of a
class of coherent symbolic communication systems (2, p. xii). Nalimov argues that the
broad view of language results from the work of cybernetic linguistics. In addition to
mathematics and biology as 'hard' languages, 'soft' languages also
need to be recognized:
'The study of art can be regarded as the teaching of a language for communication in the emotional sphere of life. We may speak of the language of abstract painting, of the language of music, and that of rhythm in poetry, and we can carry on quite serious investigations in these directions... In any case, the definitions of language which linguists of the traditional school have been attempting to formulate seem very naive nowadays'. (2, p. xviii)
(b) Culture: The variety of interpretations of 'culture' and itsrelationship to 'language' is a theme of continuing and possibly endless debate. The preparatory report for a Unesco meeting on intercultural studies (Belgrade, 1976) draws attention to culture as: 'A related whole or more or less formalized ways of thinking, feeling and acting which, learnt and shared by a number of people, serve, both objectively and symbolically, to make of those people a special, distinct collectivity' (3, p. 17). Kroeber and Kluckholn conclude a review with the statement that: 'It is evident that culture has been used in two senses, each usually implicit in its context and validated there: culture including language, and culture excluding language. It is also clear that language is the most easily separable part or aspect of total culture... it is obviously easier to abstract linguistics from the remainder of culture and define it separately than the reverse' (4, p. 244). Clearly in seeking a broader interpretation of 'language', language becomes much less distinguishable from culture to the point that, for the purposes of this paper, they may often be considered identical. Thus in considering the consequences of differences in culture, Geert Hofstede states: 'Culture... includes language. Language is the most clearly recognizable part of culture and the part that has lent itself most readily to systematic theory-building' (5, p. 27). The more distinct that cultures become the greater the tendency for this distinction to be embodied in distinct sets of terms or languages.
(c) Information: Information is used in this paper to indicate potential patterns of significance. This includes raw statistical data, for example, only to the extent that the data is interpreted as forming patterns of significance. Patterns of significance may be carried by a wide variety of media or languages and are therefore not limited to verbalized information or graphic images. Considerable information, often of political significance, may be conveyed by ritual, ceremony, music, poetry or body language, for example.
Nalimov reproduces a sample of definitions of the term 'information' and then states that: 'None of the definitions corresponds to our intuitive understanding of the meaning of the word. And any attempt at defining ascribes some new features to this word, features which do not clarify but, on the contrary, make narrow and thus obscure its sense, and indubitably increase the word's polymorphism' (2, p. 103).
(d) Use: The uses of information tend to be conceived in terms of:
The prevalence of these two highly visible uses of information tends to obscure the question as to whether the uses are primarily concerned with:
This distinction was the principal theme of a Club of Rome report (6) and was explored
in connection with the limitations on the use of international organization information in
an earlier paper, especially in relation to societal learning (7).
Those concerned with information seldom publicly acknowledge two other major uses of information:
This range of uses moves beyond the concept of use associated with the first two items.
Information may indeed be used in a non-innovative manner and may have uses unrelated to
(e) Time: In discussing the uses of information, it is easy to assume that they should be evident soon after the information is produced. From a societal learning perspective however, some types of information only acquire their full significance long after they have been produced. Much of the investment in telecommunications is concerned with short-term information (e.g. share prices, commodity prices, new research, news, meteorological data, military status reports). Such information frequently has a very short 'half-life', possibly measured in hours or days. The media equivalent, as Alvin Toffler indicated, is the brief presentation of unrelated images leading to what he terms a 'blip culture' (8). In contrast the information which is eventually aggregated into the cultural heritage may be much less easily detectable in the short-term. It calls for a much longer exposure time before its significance becomes apparent. Whilst such information is valued in all cultures, it is not valued equally in all cultures (9).
Recognizing the inherent difficulties, noted above, of adequately identifying and describing the problem within any one conceptual framework, this section uses the device of exploring a number of 'points of entry' through which the nature of the problem may be comprehended. Each of these points of entry helps in some way to clarify the difficulties of the conceptual discontinuity which isolates distinct areas, conditioning the kinds of information that they are able to generate and receive. It must be stressed that the apparent ease with which some forms of discontinuity may be discussed and comprehended often obscures quite profound differences in perspective. As is said of the USA and the UK 'two cultures separated by the same language'.
The much-discussed phrase of Marshall McLuhan 'The medium is the message' raises
the question as to the kinds of information that are exchanged using different
media. The important point here is the recognizable preference of different organizations,
groups and individuals for different media. Where some prefer information in
text form, others prefer audio-visual presentation. President Reagan is a commonly
cited example of the latter. Such people tend to avoid use of the wealth of information
available in text form even when presented in condensed form.
The reverse is of course also true. There is a considerable reluctance in some disciplines to base any scholarly argument on information presented in graphic form. Such an argument would be assessed as inadequately formulated if it cannot be expressed verbally. This is a characteristic of the social sciences, especially political science and international relations. Whilst tables and graphs may be acceptable, this is seldom the case with audio-visual presentations, especially in continental European cultures. The up-market French newspaper 'Le Monde', together with 'Le Monde Diplomatique', pride themselves on the absence of illustrations in their columns. And yet the information formulated by such disciplines is assumed to be of some relevance to the politicians and decision-makers described by Harold Lasswell:
'Why do we put so much emphasis on audio-visual means of portraying goal, trend, condition, projection, and alternative ? Partly because so many valuable participants in decision-making have dramatizing imaginations... They are not enamoured of numbers or of analybe abstractions that encourage contextuality by a varied repertory of means, and where an immediate sense of time, space, and figure is retained'. (10)
Other examples of contrasting forms of presentation which may be usefully cited are :
Such different media raise the question of how to describe the kinds of information by
which they are characterized. How is it that peopleor organizations oriented toward one
such medium find it extremely difficult to make effective use of information provided
through another ? Political scientists make extensive studies of the role of media as a
vehicle for political ideas but would be reluctant to use non-verbal means as an aid to
their own conceptual explorations. Such information would not be
To the extent that each such medium is a purveyor of messages characteristic of a particular language or culture, what processes exist for the 'translation' of messages from one media language to another ? Examples include :
None of the forms of 'translation' indicated here imply a simple relationship between the source language and the target language. With the exception of some computer conversions (numbers to graphs; music to visual effects), the differences between such forms of information is indicated by the fact that none of these translation processes have been computerized.
Media may be grouped by the degree to which they call upon the information
processing capacity of the different senses. Such an approach is in sympathy
with various schools of Eastern philosophy, where the senses are usually identified
as: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell, to which thinking is occasionally
added. It has also been suggested that in certain cultures information processing
associated with one particular sense tends to predominate. Very loosely it
has been claimed that Western cultures are visually oriented in contrast to
aurally oriented African cultures, for example (11).
Even as a metaphor however, the difficulties of communicating information conveyed in aural terms to a person or group oriented to a visual presentation are immediately evident. They are dramatized by efforts to explain the visually perceived world to a blind person relying primarily on touch and sound. The blind person lacks referents for the visual experience; as in the case of colour.
Whilst the coordination of sense experience is part of development in early childhood, an individual gradually comes to make greater use of some senses as opposed to others, depending on environmental circumstances. Thus the sense of smell is largely atrophied in urban environments.
In societies the relationship between visual and aural information is complex. Written information may be viewed as suspect in comparison to word-of-mouth reports, or vice-versa. The translation from one form to another, 'writing it down' or 'presenting it verbally to an audience', can considerably modify the weight attached to the information, its ability to be received and the possiblities for its further dissemination.
Recent studies in European countries and the USA have revealed suprisingly
high levels of illiteracy. In the case of the USA, the English Language Proficiency
Survey, a study by the Census Bureau published in 1986 indicated an illiteracy
rate of 9% for those of English mother tongue and 48% for others. Of those who
failed the test 0.8% had some college education, 6% had finished high school,
18.6% had some high school education, 34.3% had 6-8 years schooling, and 53.3%
had 5 or less years schooling. An earlier and more stringent test of 'functional competency of adults', the Adult Performance
Level Project (University of Texas, 1975), covered skills of communication, computation,
problem solving and personal relations. It found that 20% of American adults were unable
to perform everyday adult tasks whilst a further 34% could perform the tasks but not
proficiently. It is to be expected that the situation in other countries is equally
dramatic. Such tests may be interpreted as giving an indication of inability to use
information in a certain form. Clearly large proportions of any population do not make
more than limited use of information available in text form. This is not to say that they
do not make extensive and effective use of information in other forms in terms of their
needs. It is unfortunate that 'illiteracy' is easily interpreted as
inability to use information when in fact it only reflects inability to use information
of a certain type.
But even amongst those who are found to be 'literate', such tests do not help to distinguish those who are disinclined to use their ability in order to make use of information in a particular form. It is not possible to distinguish the proportions of the literate population that uses text information (a) to reinforce currently held views, or (b) to retrie factual data, in contrast to those who make active use of it (c) to explore challenging, innovative or opposing views. This suggests the need for a more complex indicator than illiteracy rate to measure inability to make use of information in different forms.
A measure of intelligence may be considered as a measure of theindividuals
capacity to process information. There is a long held theory that there is
a single measurable intelligence scale along which each individual can be assessed
to derive an
'intelligence quotient'. As part of the recent Project on Human Potential of the
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Howard Gardner has reviewed a considerable body of
evidence which questions the validity of this theory (12). He argues that the tests do not
measure what they purport to, and are valid only for a small Western middle-class
minority. This raises the question as to whether the prevailing concept of what
constitutes 'information' is not subject to similar distortion.
Gardner proceeds to demonstrate that there is persuasive evidence for the existence of several relatively autonomous human intellectual competences which he calls 'human intelligences' or 'frames of mind'. The exact nature of and breadth of each intellectual 'frame' has not so far been satisfactorily established, nor has the precise number of such intelligences been determined. It is however possible to demonstrate that several such intelligences exist, common to many cultures, each with its own patterns of development and brain activity, and each different in kind from the others. Gardner points out that the many previous efforts to establish independent intelligences have been unconvincing, chiefly because they rely on only one or, at the most, two lines of evidence.
Gardner presents evidence for the following distinct forms of intelligence :
Gardner stresses that different forms of intelligence may be more readily accepted in
different cultures. Whilst at the same time recognizing that although the logico-
mathematical form may predominate in the West (which claims to have originated it), it is
nevertheless present in tribal cultures (such as the Kalahari Bushman) in somewhat
Within this context the notion of intelligence that he advances involves the existence of one or more information-processing operations or mechanisms which can deal with specific kinds of input. He suggests that human intelligence might be defined as a neural mechanism or computational system which is genetically programmed to be activated or 'triggered' by certain kinds of internally or externally presented information. (12, p. 64). The operations of these mechanisms may be considered autonomous, without the 'modules' being yoked together. He points out that exponents of this modular view do not react favourably to the notion of a central information-processing mechanism that decides which module to invoke (12, p.55)
A well-defined characteristic of academic debate is the tendency for different schools of thought to emerge in relation to a topic cluster. Debate within each school of thought develops through unemotional arguments reflecting the best of the scholarly style. In debate between schools or between disciplines, however, where there is a lesser degree of commonality of the conceptual frameworks (or none at all), the arguments formulated within one framework tend to appear more emotional and as less well-founded or even irrational from another. The kinds of information supplied from one framework are then suspect or unacceptable to those operating in an alternative framework thus leading to 'underuse'. This problem has been explored by the philosopher WT Jones (13) concerned at the tendency for debates around certain topics to remain static and to fail to develop over long periods of time. In particular he noted the tendency for certain positions to be maintained (reflecting a particular framework) despite an abundance of information concerning the validity of some alternative position. To clarify this situation, he demonstrates that the discontinuities can be described in terms of the different positions of the participants (or schools of thought) on seven pre-rational axes of bias. These differences are reflected in aesthetical, theoretical, value, life-style, policy, and action preferences, as well as in the preferred style of discussion. Any difference between people in position 'along' an axis gives rise to discontinuity which it is difficult to handle within a rational frame of reference. The axes identified by Jones are:
In a series of articles, Magoroh Maruyama has studied patterns of cognition,
perception, conceptualization, design, planning and decision processes (14, 15,
16, 17). His central concern is the role of epistemological types, especially
as they affect cross-disciplinary, cross-professional, cross-paradigm and cross-cultural
communications. In contrasting his own work with that of previous research in
this area, he distinguishes two traditional approaches: the psychological and
psychoanalytical bases of individual differences in patterns of cognition, and
the cultural and social differences as determined by sociologists and anthropologists.
Maruyama notes the various terms that have been used to describe such patterns, none of which has proved satisfactory: models, logics, paradigms, epistemologies. To these might be added Kenneth Boulding's 'image' (18). In Maruyama's more recent work he favours 'mindscapes'. He provides a very valuable summary of these different exercises in 'paradigmatology' and their relation to social organization.
Although he no longer favours the term, he defined paradigmatology as the 'science of structures of reasoning' whether between disciplines, professions, cultures or individuals (16). He notes that the 'problem of communication between different structures of reasoning had not been raised until recently', since scholars tended either to advocate their own approach or describe that of others. Contributing to this neglect is the fact that the choice between logics is based on factors which are beyond and independent of any logic.
Although he carefully emphasizes that there are many possible mindscapes or paradigms, Maruyama argues that 'for practical purposes' it is useful to distinguish four main types (16, p. 6). He stresses that these are not meant to be either mutually exclusive norexhaustive and warns that any attempt at separating them into non-overlapping categories 'is itself a victim of a paradigm which assumes that the universe consists of non- overlapping categories' (16, p. 142). What is intriguing is that over the years he has continued to struggle with the same attributes, grouping them first into three types (14), extended to four (15), then to five (16) and now seemingly stabilized at four again (17).
The four types are:
The above descriptions are brief summaries of extensive listings of characteristics in
relation to overall social philosophy, ethics, decision-making, design, social activity,
perception of environment, human values, choice of alternatives, religion, causality,
logic, knowledge, and cosmology (15, 16, 17). Maruyama considers that the influence of
such 'pure' types predominates in certain cultures, although in practice the
types are quite mixed. Thus the H-type predominates in European, Hindu and Islamic
cultures. The I-type develops in certain individuals, such as those of existentialist
philosophy. The S-type is characteristic of Chinese, Hopi, and Balinese cultures. The
G-type predominates in the African Mandenka culture, for example. H, S. and G
characteristics can be distinguished in different streams of Japanese culture.
Maruyama has recently (17) compared his four types with an extensive survey of epistemological data grouped by O J Harvey into four 'systems' (19).
The two authors find that they agree on three types and differ on the nature of the fourth (which Jungian's would presumably consider as corresponding to a partially 'repressed function' they have in common). It is much to be regretted that such surveys have not explored the epistemologies in 'developing' countries to a greater degree, nor the extent to which different epistemologies are co-present in the same culture, group, individual or life-cycle. Such work would contribute to further understanding of information based on different epistemologies is underused within other epistemological frameworks.
As noted above, the absence of systematic research makes it difficult to clarify
the effects of culture on information processing. A number of practical dimensions
of the problem have been reviewed in a series of studies by Edward T Hall (20,
21, 22, 23) and in a seminal review by Andreas Fuglesang (11). Bearing in mind
the intimate relationship between culture and language, the matter may be explored
by using comparative research on cultures as an indication of the dimension
of the problem. Particularly fruitful in this respect is a study by Geert Hofstede
: Culture's Consequences; international differences in work-related values
(5). This 'explores differences in thinking and social action
that exist between members of 40 different modern nations'.
He argues that people carry 'mental programs' which are developed in the family and early childhood and reinforced in the schools and organizations of their respective cultures.
The data used for the empirical part of the research was extracted from an existing database of the results of surveys within subsidiaries of a large high technology multinational corporation. The survey was held twice, in 1968 and in 1972, producing a total of over 116,000 questionnaires. This was supplemented by additional data from people on management courses unrelated to that corporation. Hofstede argues that the differences demonstrated in the study 'have profound consequences for the validity of the transfer of theories and working methods from one country to another' (5, p. 12). This suggests associated consequences for the use ofinformation generated in other countries. The findings are interpreted on behalf of policy makers in national but especially in international and multinational organizations who are confronted with the problems of collaboration of members of their staff carrying different culturally influenced mental programs. The question is whether the implications of this study can be used to offer further insights on the use of information in different cultures.
Hofstede isolated four main dimensions on which country cultures differ :
Hofstede presents an integration of these four dimensions. The values of the four
indices for the 40 countries are used to form clusters of countries with similar index
profiles. The four dimensions satisfy Kluckhohn's criteria for universal categories of
culture. Hofstede argues that they describe basic problems of humanity with which every
society has to cope, although for each of them there is not just one possible answer, but
a range of possible answers. He recognizes that the set of dimensions is not necessarily
Place Figures 1 and 2 here
Of special interest in terms of this paper is that Hofstede indicates, for each of the four dimensions, the consequences for :
In so doing he comes very close to rendering explicit the implications for information
processing. An attempt at rendering these implications explicit is made in Annex 1. This
suggests how Hofstede's four dimensions might be interpreted to throw light on the
information processing differences between cultures.
Hofstede's approach has served as the point of departure for research at the National Bureau for Professional Training in the Ivory Coast aimed at determining management and organizational models appropriate to African cultures. Henry Bourgoin, Director of the Bureau, in a study entitled 'L'Afrique Malade du Management' (24) notes, in reviewing the forms of management used in African through the colonial period to the present period of 'occidental management' that:
'... l'entreprise industrielle que nous connaissons actuellement dans le monde entier s'est surtout developpée dans le contexte culturel de l'Europe du XIXe siècle. Une telle organisation, malgré des aménagements en cours dans différents pays, reste fondé sur des 'valeurs' particuliers qu'elle continue à véhiculer : productivité, rentabilité, etc. Elle s'appuie aussi sur des 'logiques' particulières: planning, ordonnancement, etc. qui intègrent elles-mêmes des éléments, qui, s'ils existent évidemment dans toutes ces cultures, n'y sont pas toujours aussi valorisés' (24, p. 20).
'C'est pourquoi, jusqu' aujourd'hui, les différentes formes de 'culture managériale' importée ont glissé sur notre comportement, comme une goutte d'huile sur une feuille de manioc... Il ne put s'agir ni 'd'imiter les Blancs' ni de 'faire comme nos ancêtres'. Une seule voie, celle du juste milieu, est réaliste, car elle prendra en compte le visage actuel de nos sociétés' (24, p. 20-21).
In a section entitled 'Des modèles bien à nous', Bourgoin considers that valid organizational models invented by African societies must be discovered by research into the traditional political systems adopted by African people.
'On peut en effet les considérer comme le reflet de la pensée du groupe dans les domaines du pouvoir, du commandement et de son organization interne. Ces structures politiques sont en outre révélatrices des normes sociales élémentaires qui sous-entendaient l'organisation du groupe'. (24, p. 21).
Bourgoin stresses the diversity of traditional African political systems from which organizational models may be derived. These may be divided into two main groups:
Language is not a neutral vehicle as is frequently assumed by those concerned by
information questions. The processes of thinking are affected by the categories and forms
available in the language used. This phenomenon is known as the 'Whorfian
hypothesis' which has been formulated as: 'observers are not led by the same
picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrouds are similar or can in some way
be calibrated' (25, p. 65). There are some frequently cited examples of this
phenomenon, such as the 200 Eskimo words for 'snow', languages which have no
separate words for 'blue' and 'green' or others which use verbs in
preference to nouns.
Unfortunately such striking examples have proved of little more than anecdotal significance in affecting thinking about information. It has apparently not yet been possible to clarify in any systematic way how category formation and patterns of categories differ between languages in terms of their effects on information transfer between languages. There are many studies of isolated cases, many comparative studies of languages, but the implication for cross-cultural information transfer does not seem to have been brought out. Indeed Howard Gardner in a recent study of human congnition dismisses 'rabid whorfians' because research has not established the absence of lexical equivalents to be of major significance (25). He is however careful to point out that such research has tendend to focus on tangible phenomena and not on abstracts and generic concepts. It is in this area that major pitfalls appear to lie as is indicated below.
One of the major difficulties in clarifying such implications is the natural tendency to focus on the words used to convey significance in one language as compared to those used in another. The focus immediately becomes word-oriented rather than concept-oriented. This tendency is reinforced by one school in the long-standing debate as to whether concepts can be usefully considered asindependent of the words by which they are communicated. By locking onto words, for which it is assumed that equivalents in other languages exist or can be found, the embarrassing conceptual problems indicated by the Whorfian hypothesis can be conveniently ignored.
Clearly it is not possible in this paper to do more than explore ways of drawing attention to this problem and its potential implications for information use. As a shortcut, for purposes of illustration, the assumption has been made here that differences between languages, beyond those of simple substitution of equivalent words (dog = chien = Hund, etc), are indicative of significant differences in the actual handling of concepts.
The task of this section is therefore to note such non-trivial differences and infer, where possible, how these may affect information handling between languages/cultures. For this exercise it has been found that the organization of material provided by linguistic studies is not as helpful as those concerned with the non-trivial problems of translation, especially between unrelated languages, and more so when the emphasis is on the meaning dimension. The recently-published study used for this purpose is Mildred Larson's 'Meaning-based translation: a guide to cross-language equivalence' (26).
The forward notes:
'In the last thirty years a body of literature on translation theory, strongly influenced by modern linguistics, has appeared to support and give academic respectability to the new profession of the non literary translator. Some of these books... have been too philosophical and abstract to relate at all closely to the translator's mundane problems. Some have leaned towards contrastive linguistics. Others have tended to tie translation too closely to linguistic theory. Nida's were the first to deal at all practically with the cultural as well as the manifold linguistic problems of translation'. Larson's study is also significant because of the remarkably wide range of languages from which examples are taken. They include Asian, African, Amerindian, Australasian and European languages.
A summary of relevant points raised in Larson's study is presented in Annex 2. Of special interest are the following :
Whilst such issues are of interest in their own right in considering the problems of
information overload and information underuse. Annex 2 is of even greater instance as a
model of the kinds of issues affecting information transfer between sub-cultures or
jargons within the same language. It highlights issues which may seriously affect the
exchange of information between 'neighbouring' disciplines or schools of
thought. In particular the prime concern of a translator to ensure that information is
presented in an appropriate and natural manner, in order that it should not be perceived
as artificial or facilitate misunderstanding, may be related to the difficulty encountered
when information from one school of thought is presented to another. Whilst
'comprehensible', it may easily be viewed as artificial and even experienced as
Of great interest too are the manner in which different languages order sets of concepts in very different ways. It could well be argued that a fundamentally different worldview is built into a language which, for example, favours presenting purpose at the beginning of any grammatical structure in contrast to one in which the purpose statement is presented following the main clause. What for example is the impact on a worldview of presenting the principal verb at the end of a propositional cluster, as in German ?
Such issues suggest ways of looking at the ordering of information favoured by different disciplines, professions and schools of administration. Whilst it is easy to recognize the extreme distaste with which those with a literary background view the highly ordered documents produced by international administrations (e.g. numbered paragraphs and resolutions), mathematicians (e.g. numbered equations), or numbered propositions (e.g. in some studies of logic or philosophy), Annex 2 suggests other possible differences in ordering which may also hinder rather than facilitate the use of information.
A series of exploratory studies have been carried out by the Union of International Associations on the implications of such issues for exchange of information within the international community concerning international organizations. These culminated in a symposium on the question (27). Two particular points of emphasis were :
In both cases the question was to what extent a pattern of distinctions (as opposed to isolated concepts) could be maintained during translation. A back translation technique was used employing mainly non-indo-european languages. The results suggested that such patterns of distinctions were not maintained, even (to some extent) between languages as close as English and French.
In the previous sections attention has been focussed on the determination of
modes of information processing in different cultural and language contexts.
Some of the implications may be considered quite striking. They raise questions
about the assumptions under which international information policies are developed.
It is however possible to set such questions aside by adopting the attitude that
the differences are really only significant as inter-cultural curiosities to
be savoured when exploring the artistic heritage of exotic cultures. In the 'real world' after
all, commerce can be successfully conducted by using a highly simplified form
of English in which subtleties of interpretation can be ignored, provided there
is no misunderstanding concerning the goods being exchanged. International trade
has been successfully carried out over the centuries with just such a pragmatic
attitude. The pressure has always been on the exotic cultures to learn to function
at an adequate level in one of the trade languages.
When misunderstandings arise they are handled on a case-by-case basis, possibly guided by the experience of an 'old hand at the business' of dealing with culture in question.
This pragmatic approach has been carried over into the exchange of telex messages. With the rapid development of telecommunications and data networks, dominated by hardware and software with manuals and operating systems in English, a similar pragmatism has been necessary. Those who failed to adapt their thinking and methods of operation to such systems found themselves at a disadvantage. Similarly in the case of international air traffic control, mastery of an English-based jargon is obligatory for pilots. For reasons of cost, most international databases use English language thesauri for search purposes, even those designed within multilingual organizations such as those of the United Nationssystem. Partial remedies for any problems are increasingly sought, with some success, in machine-assisted translation, as in the case of the EEC.
With this experience in overcoming intercultural and interlinguistic problems, it can easily be argued that the kinds of problems evoked in the preceding sections can simply be ignored or handled on a case-by-case basis when they create special difficulties. And clearly this is a viable approach for a significant proportion of information processing.
The purpose of this paper is to argue that, at least for some forms of information processing, the above attitude is facile and suspect. It conveniently obscures issues which may help to clarify the problems of information overload and information underuse when, and if, they become of concern. The ease with which cultural differences can be dismissed in the short-term, obscures the longer terms problems which emerge as a consequence. This lesson has been repeatedly learnt at great cost by multinational corporations and by international agencies with aid programmes. But whilst cultural factors are now taken more seriously by such bodies with respect to their operations, there is little suggestion that similar lessons remain to be learnt by those concerned with information policies. The main signals on this question come from the cultures claiming they are subjected to 'cultural imperialism'.
Whilst the problem between cultures and languages may be handled as indicated
above, the consequences of this attitude are perhaps far more serious within
cultures or languages. It is only too easy to make the assumption that information
processing is not subject to such difficulties within an English language context,
whatever the nuances between
'English' and 'American' culture. Since problems of information
overload and underuse are as dramatic within such cultures as they are between them, it is
definitely worth exploring whether a given language or culture, such as English, is as
homogeneous and 'transparent' to information flows as the above attitude
implies. The problem within cultures is much less easy to clarify. Whereas the
major differences in spoken languages clearly indicate the existence of different
cultures, no such obvious difference exists within cultures. It is therefore
even easier to assume that any such culture is homogeneous or that such differences
are superficial and of little significance for information processing.
There is however sufficient evidence for the existence of sub-cultures within a culture. As indicated earlier, in the case of academic disciplines and invisible colleges these are demarcated by differences in terminology and style. These differences may strongly affect the use of information as Hofstede indicates :
'Ethnocentrism is found not only in research design, data collection, and data analysis; it is also found in the divulging of research results. Articles published in foreign languages are completely out of most researchers' conceptual worlds; in this respect multilingual Asians and Europeans are better off than most Americans. In the English language, professional journals usually publish articles following their own implicit research paradigm and style of communication. I have noticed that the comments of American journal reviewers on innocently submitted European manuscripts show a similar embarrassment as the comments of French management students on translated American text books'. (5, p. 26).
The above example relates to scholars supposedly working within the same discipline using the same language. This suggests that for those operating in different disciplines or professions: (a) their different substantive interests obviously affect their perception of the significance of information, but also (b) the implicit values of each sub-culture affect their preparedness to consider information emanating from some other sub-culture. The interdisciplinary problem is not just one of differing substantive interests as is commonly assumed. This conceals differences of style or mode of information processing. It is these that constitute the 'hidden problem'.
Hofstede, citing Hall, states that even between cultures the problems of cultural relativism are difficult to bring into focus in international meetings. He sees the attempt to do so as a risky strategy which polarizes the audience to the point that some 'reject the notion of a cultural component rigorously, become upset, and feel threatened by it' (5, p. 254).
'Possibly one of the many reasons why the culture concept has been resisted is that it throws doubt on many established beliefs. Fundamental beliefs .... are shown to vary widely from one cultureto the next. It is easier to avoid the idea of the culture concept than to face up to it'. (30, p. 60). Also: 'The concepts of culture ... touch upon such intimate matters that they are often brushed aside at the very point where people begin to comprehend their implications' (30, p. 165).
Within any language or culture it is even more difficult to focus on these questions despite familiarity, or even intimate knowledge, of the sub-cultures in question. In identifying areas in which further research is required Hofstede states: 'The analysis of differences in national cultures should be complemented with a further differentiation of regional, ethnic, occupational, and organizational subcultures' (5, p. 279).
Although much work on subcultures does exist as the meat of social science
research, it does not appear to be comparable to Hofstede's multicultural survey.
Most of it is on particular subcultures and would not permit implications for
information processing to be easily drawn.
As a working hypothesis it is therefore useful to assume that the forms of differentiation of relevance to information processing that can be found between cultures and languages can also be found within cultures and languages.
This assumption can be used to formulate questions for further research. Taking Gardner's multiple intelligences as an example, amongst any group of people in which the logico- mathematical form of intelligence is dominant, do the other forms of intelligence occur to different extents as sub-dominants, thus contributing to the variation amongst the sub- culture of mathematicians ?
But this assumption is most useful as a way of drawing upon Hofstede's research and its implications. Taking one of the clusters grouping the USA and the UK it is probable that the differentiation between the English speaking sub-cultures would result in similar mappings to those he portrays for the case between cultures (in Fig 1 and 2). The information processing consequences (Annex 1) are as relevant in distinguising between sub- cultures as they are in distinguishing between cultures. Within an English-speaking culture, for example, one would expect to find a sub-culture of people and groups who have information processing preferences analogous to those predominating in Latin cultures. Conversely within Latin cultures, one would expect to find a sub-culture of people or groups with information processing preferences analogous to those predominating in English- speaking cultures.
This makes it clear why some proportion of a population may be especially sympathetic to information processing approaches characteristic of another culture. But it also highlights the illusion of assuming from that interest that the 'market' for that approach could easily be extended to the remainder of the population to the same degree as in the culture where that mode predominates.
Although it is useful to identify differences distinguishing languages/cultures, methods of organizing this information need to be sought if the potential consequences of such differences are to be understood in relation to information overload and information underuse. The study by Hofstede is clearly very helpful in this respect and he himself has used the resulting insights in the design of courses for managers in multi-cultural organizations. However his study is not especially explicit about the problems of managing a set of differences (contradictory perspectives), especially in relation to information processing. The purpose of this section is therefore to look at some ways of organizing information about differences that can throw further light on the information processing problem.
There is an extensive literature endeavouring to categorize languages and
families of languages, unfortunately this literature is remarkable for
its failure to clarify the conceptual distinctions between languages as
they might affect the processing of information. The focus is on grammatical
structures and word forms. It would therefore be instructive to have a
relatively simple model to illustrate and interrelate such conceptual distinctions.
One basis for such a model is suggested by a recent paper of William Huff
on varieties of homonym.
His concern is the question of how to represent succinctly the variety of ways in which words (in English, in his case) can be distinguished taking into account similarities and differences in written form, pronounciation and meaning. In essence this is analogous to the problem of how to represent the variety of different languages, taking into account similarities and differences in representational form, style of expression and meaning.
Huff makes use of the binary bar coding device used in the Chinese I Ching system (32) to present the range of forms indicated in Figure 3. He has produced extensive word lists illustrating the different patterns of similarity/dissimilarity identified there.
Place Figures 3 and 4 here
An equivalent version for Fig. 3 could be produced in the form of Fig 4. It represents a pattern of 8 hypothetical languages which are maximally distinct from each other within the rules imposed by the coding system. That system however also highlights degrees of similarity, equivalence and contrast between those languages.
Whilst Fig. 4 can be used to illustrate many important problems in relation to information processing, the problems are in many ways less interesting. In effect Fig. 4 can best be used to illustrate the gross differences between languages which must be resolved if any kind of transformation or translation is to be designed to permit an information 'carrier wave' to travel appropriately between two languages. Fig. 4 is however interesting in that it does illustrate different strategies for using the language facility, some of which raise considerable problems for information processing.
This last group involves variants of language of double meaning, puns, symbolism,
metaphor, poetry, or the encryption of one language into another (as in secret languages
or codes). Exploration and exploitation of one of these variants may be the prime
characteristic of a language. The Malay language makes very extensive use of metaphor for
Whilst the complexity of Figure 4 is sufficient to indicate the kinds of variation between languages understood in their more obvious sense (permitting people to send information to each other), it is clearly not sufficient to indicate whether such information is likely to be considered significant. It takes more than the capacity to send and receive messages for an exchange of information to be fruitful. Figure 4 therefore models the 'gross' difference between languages. An equivalent device may be used in conjunction with it to indicate the 'subtle' or intangible differences.
An interesting question raised by a presentation like Figure 4 is the nature of the relation between the languages denoted by the 8 trigrams. Within the Chinese culture the symmetries and complementarities between the line structures of different trigrams are the subject of extensive commentary, especially since there each trigram represents a condition or mode which may at any time become transformed into one of the other conditions. In Gardner's study of multiple intelligences (discussed above), he specifically states that current evidence does not indicate that the individual intelligence 'modules' are to be conceived as being 'yoked' to any other modules or to any governing module. What his study does not explore is the transitions from one module to another. In the Chinese interpretation such transitions are indicated by a change in one or more of the lines making up a trigram. This implies a set of transformation pathways between such distinct modes despite (or in response to) the discontinuities between them.
The pattern of Figures 4 may be usefully presented in an alternative manner as in Figure 5. Chinese explorations of such representations exist (32).
Place Figure 5 here
The trigrams are positioned in relation to each other such that the change from one form to another is indicated by the number of edges of the cube to be traversed. The maximum difference being naturally 3, namely 3 edges.
This sort of presentation suggests the value of reflecting onconfigurations of intelligences, modes or languages in which each has a specific function (but in which none remains continually, dominant except under abnormal circumstances). Aspects of this question have been explored by the Union of International Associations in its recent 'Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential' (33). Given the extensive literature on computer models of the brain, such configurations of independent functions recall current explorations of configurations of microprocessors into rings, trees, meshes, quoit- like toruses or (most recently) hypercubes. This suggests more fruitful ways of thinking about the possible relationships between a configuration of distinct languages to improve information processing capacity.
The arguments of the previous section can be clarified and taken a step further
using the work of Ron Atkin on q-analysis, namely the theory and application
of mathematical relations between finite sets. He has applied this to the analysis
of communication patterns within complex organizations. (34, 35, 36).
The perceptual significance of this approach is well-illustrated by visual sensitivity to colours resulting from the three primary hues (red, green and blue). These may be represented on a simple triangle :
Place Figure 6 here
Here the vertices (O-simplexes) represent the primary hues, the sides are twofold combinations (1-simplexes), and the combination of the three hues makes the central white (2-simplex). The 2-simplex, together with all its faces, forms a simplicial complex KY (X) where X is the vertex set (red, green, blue) and Y is the set of seven perceived colours.
Now to be able to see all the colours, a person's vision needs to have the ability to function in the triangle as 2-dimensional 'traffic' on that geometry, moving from location to location adjusting to the complexity of the geometrical structure which carries the visual traffic. It however the person's vision is limited to 1-dimensional traffic, then white could not be perceived because the visual traffic of seeing is then restricted to the edges and vertices only. Similarly, if the person's colour vision is only O-dimensional, then it is restricted to the vertices. It can only see one vertex colour at a time and never a combination (as represented by an edge). If vision was 3-dimensional, it would allow traffic throughout the geometry, but would perceive other colours as well, calling for a fourth vertex in order to contain the full range of combinations.
If the geometry represents concepts or languages (or even sets of issues faced by an organization) instead of colours, then it would be expected that some people, in relation to that set, would have O-dimensional comprehension (i.e. sensitive to isolated primary issuesonly) and others would have 1-dimensional comprehension (i.e. only sensitive to binary combinations of primary issues). The latter would be unable to maintain attention to three concepts simultaneously in order to perceive the threefold combination (the central, integrated 'white' issue). The threefold issue may then be termed a 2-hole in the pattern of communication connectivity amongst those involved. For 2-dimensional traffic however, the issue complex is coherent, comprehensible and well integrated. For the 1-dimensional traffic, it feels less secure as a whole, since the latter may only be experienced sequentially through a succession of experiences ('around the edges') from which the shape of the whole may be deduced but not experienced For O-dimensional traffic, the integrated concept does not exist, since experience is disconnected.
'Generally speaking it seems to be confirmed that action (of whatever kind) in the community can be seen as traffic in the abstract geometry and that this traffic must naturally avoid the holes (because it is impossible for any such action to exist in a hole). The holes therefore appear strangely as objects in the structure, as far as the traffic is concerned. The difference is a logical one in that the word 'q-hole' describes a static feature of the geometry S(N), whilst the world 'q-object' describes the experience of that hole by traffic which moves in S(N)' (34, p. 75).
As an 'object' this phenomenon is an obstacle to communication and comprehension and obliges those confronted with it to go 'around' in order to sense the higher dimensionality by which it is characterized. Communications 'bounce off' such objects. As a 'hole' this phenomenon engenders, or is engendered by, a pattern of communication. It appears to function both as 'source' and 'sink'. Atkin suggests that, in some way which is not yet fully understood, such object/holes act as sources of energy for the possible traffic around them. From the initial research it would appear that such objects/holes are characteristic of communication patterns in most complex organizations. It seems highly probable that they can also be detected in any partially ordered pattern of communication. As such 'societal problems', 'human needs', and 'human values' merit examination in this light from the perspective of different languages.
Very concretely, Atkin has investigated situations in which the 'vertices' (which could themselves be n-simplexes in a multidimensional geometry) are individuals or offices linked together through various committees. They could also be governments or disciplines. There will then be a lot of O-traffic and 1-traffic within and between offices due to the details of their intra-and inter-office (bilateral) operations. This traffic will circulate around the holes/objects which they constitute. Any n-level traffic can only be encompassed, or be brought to rest, by an (n+1)-level body (e.g. an executive or a committee). If the latter does not exist, such traffic will continue to circulate around the q-objects in the structure and, according to Atkin, may be defined as noise. An 'empire builder' (or any elite), for example, in such an organizational system will carefully create many q-holes underneath him (at the n-level), so that subordinate bodies answerable only to his appointees, are trapped in the flow of noise between them (34, p. 129). Atkin notes that even though the geometry may not have been rendered explicit, such structures generate the feeling throughout a community of some 'power behind the scenes' acting to outwit the formal structure. The special value of q-analysis is that it can clarify why action/discussion in connection with (development) issues tends to be 'circular' in the long-term, however energetic it may appear in the short-term. As such it shows how social change is blocked by the way in whichconceptual traffic patterns itself around the sensed core issue which is never confronted as such because the connectivity pattern is inadequate to the dimensionality of the issue. This would explain why so many issues go unresolved and why the process of 'solving' problems becomes institutionally of greater importance than the actual 'elimination' of the problem.
When the elements of the triangle represent languages of different degrees of complexity/sensitivity the kinds of distinct languages discussed in the previous section would be represented by the vertices (just as they are in the cubic representation of Figure 5). It is possible for a person or an organization to conduct all its communication in one of these languages only. Communications in other languages would be incomprehensible and to some degree inconceivable. It is possible to envisage a different paradigm, corresponding to the 1-dimensional traffic, which would permit movement between the primary languages via intermediate languages. This would correspond to the mind-set of a polyglot or a polymath, for example. Presumably more complex paradigms could also be envisaged. Atkin analyzes much more complex situations in exploring information flows through the committee structure of a complex organization. He is especially concerned with how information on substantive issues gets moved around through appropriate committees without it being necessary to confront core issues or bring them into focus, namely the bureaucratic technique of handling information overload by avoiding use of that information.
Q-analysis gives precision to the recognition that communication complex, traffic of different degrees of content connectivity finds (or creates) its appropriate level in any psycho-social presucmably including a language. Communicable insights are level-bound, especially where they are of high connectivity. In other words, at the level within which we can communicate, concepts cannot necessarily be anchored unambiguously into terms and definitions which 'travel well'. Precision introduces distortion which is only acceptable locally within any communicating society - although 'locally' must be interpreted in the non-geographical sense in which all nuclear physicists are near neighbours, for example.
The relation between two personal or institutional structures, conceived as a multidimensional backcloth, carries whatever traffic that constitutes the communication between them. If this backcloth changes by becoming dimensionally smaller, then its geometry loses vertices and the consequent connectivity properties. This is first indicated by the failure of higher dimensional traffic which the geometry can no longer carry. Such 4-traffic, for example, must then move through the structure to some new haven of 4- dimensionality or it must change its nature and become genuine 3-traffic. This process of reducing communication expectations in order to continue to live within the new warped geometry is the classical problem of compromising. The feeling of 'having to compromise' is a painful one. It is the feeling of stress induced by the warping of the communication geometry, namely the direct experience of a structurally induced force, in this case a 4- force (34, pp. 146-7). It is the feeling associated with the distortion of an unsatisfactory translation between languages. This approach clearly provides a very precise approach to understanding more subtle forms of structural violence. Atkin has applied it to an analysis of unemployment (34, p. 148).
Such considerations suggest the power of q-analysis in clarifying approaches to human and social development in general. Reducing the dimensionality of the geometry on which a person (or group) is able to live is an impoverishment associated with repressive forces. Expanding the dimensionality induces positive, attractive forces through which a sense of development and enrichment is experienced (34, p. 163). Q-analysis seems to be a valuable new language through which precision can be given to intuitive experiences and their communication, particularly since it provides an explicit measure of obstruction to change.
In the case of social development, it is probable that most continuing societal problems should be seen as holes/objects, especially given the well-established record of unfruitful action in response to them - however vigorous and dedicated. Typical examples are: peace/disarmament, development, human rights, environment, etc. Q-analysis could then provide understanding of why any action tends to be drawn into a vortex of futuility, however much it satisfies short-term political needs for visible 'positive' action. The participants in the action find themselves 'circulating' around a central concern of which they are unable to obtain an overview due to the geometries of the overlapping conceptual and organizational structures through which they work (or which they somehow engender).
The term 'futility' used above is however only appropriate if the sole considerations were the elimination of such problems. In fact the existence of such problems is extremely important to the organization of society, to social development, and to the direct or indirect employment of many people. Just as the 'defence' business is vital to the economy of many countries, so is the 'social problem' business vital to many sectors of society. Eliminating social problems would be a disaster for many people, especially problem-oriented intellectuals, the employees of problem-solving agencies, or indeed those in need of stimulus and challenge.
In the case of human development, Atkin shows how the individual can be defined in terms of a multidimensional geometry requiring a minimum of four levels (34, p. 111). By relating this geometry to that of society, Atkin introduces an 8-level scheme (34, p. 162) within which the degree of integration or eccentricity of communication can be clarified in terms of developmental or anti-developmental forces.
Concerning such levels, the question arises as to whether their hierarchical order is fixed. Preoccupations associated with Schumacher's 'small is beautiful', for example, may well modify the order. The ordering may be a question of orientation in which the 'top' and 'bottom' elements selected depend on the preferred concept and direction of development (e.g. 'top-down',, 'bottom-up'). This would be more consistent with the concept of order as an (existential) choice as discussed above in connection with the various fourfold 'languages'.
In such a multidimensional geometry it is clear that, whether in the case of an individual, a group or society as a whole, it is not possible to eliminate 'underdevelopment' as associated with low dimensionality. Such a geometry will necessarily continue to have traffic of very low-level connectivity co-present with that of increasingly higher level connectivity. The simplest illustration arises from the continual birth of infants who will, when resources permit, continue to be educated through to the level of connectivity to which they can respond. But there will always be communication at both low and high- connectivity levels, especially about socio-politicalissues. The question is then how such learning communication between these different levels of connectivity can weave itself together within a social structure.
It is the status of the holes/objects in relation to development which could provide an interesting point of departure for further investigation. As noted above, it is not a question of attempting vainly to eliminate such holes, especially when some of them may arise from alternative concepts of 'development'. Rather it is a question of how configurations of holes can be identified and/or designed. It is such configurations of holes which provide the minimum structure (and communication dynamics) to stabilize and give form to the co-presence of the differing 'answers' to the challenge of development.
In effect such holes exist at a lower connectivity-level than the 'macro-hole' of higher connectivity constituted by the world problematique at this time. This macro-crisis hole 'absorbs' the development initiatives of society by engendering the immense volume of action/communication traffic around the hole so defined. This draws attention to the developmental implications of the probable presence of holes of yet higher dimensionality than can be readily sensed or made the subject of acceptable public (consensual) communication.
How then are 'better' holes to be engendered within such configurations? Now from one point of view it is necessary to avoid introducing an element of evaluation, because from each hole the perception of other holes will be distorted so that no communicable assessment can be usefully formulated. On the other hand, it may prove to be the case that, at the level of the configuration as a whole, more than one such configuration can be identified/designed in order to interrelate the perspectives associated with the set of holes. And at this level, without privileging any particular hole, more adequate interrelationships between the elements making up the holes can be identified.
Expressed differently, introducing evaluative judgements into the relationships between the holes within a particular configuration can only contribute to the dynamics between such holes in terms of perceived advantage/disadvantage. Excessive emphasis on this runs the risk of tearing the configuration apart. The identities associated with the holes can be respected in each of the configurations in a series constituting progressively more adequate or richer formulations of the relationships between 'developments'. There is consequently a multiplicity of concepts of development operative in society. Individuals and groups may 'progress' from one to another, possibly with a general tendency towards those of higher connectivity. But other individuals and groups will emerge and find the concepts of lower connectivity more meaningful before moving on, if they do, to those of higher connectivity. (In this sense the 'ontogenesis' of an individual tends to repeat the 'phylogenesis' of his/her society). Society in this sense is the arena within which individuals and groups refine their concept of development.
In different ways the previous sections suggest that it might be fruitful to
consider the apparent isolation of languages as being due to an inability to
understand how to move between such languages. Although each language constitutes
a rich learning environment, itbecomes a trap if no way can be found to exploit
the advantages of other languages when they may be more appropriate. In a sense
each language provides a mode of information processing which is effectively
a frozen portion of a larger learning cycle. Each such portion, just as with
an organ in the human body, processes certain kinds of information in a manner
significant for the whole, but within the prevailing paradigm there is no means
of transferring the significance extracted to other contexts within the whole
where it may be of value.
In the West part of the difficulty lies in the conception of learning as a linear process resulting in a shift in comprehension from A to B. It is only in the insights of Western poets that there is any recognition that, as stated by TS Eliot: 'The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time'. Gregory Bateson does however makes a strong case for the essential discontinuity of the learning process as a 'zigzag dialectic between form and process' (37, p. 194). If the zigzag is considered as occuring around a learning cycle however, marrying in the Eastern bias towards recurrence, this cycle can then be subdivided into sufficiently detailed elements to be of significance for organizational operations. Jantsch discusses cyclical organization in terms of the system logic of dissipative self-organization:
'Hypercycles, which link autocatalytic units in cyclical organization, play an important role in many natural phenomena of self-organization, spanning a wide spectrum from chemical and biological evolution to ecological and economic systems and systems of population growth. The cyclical organization of a system may itself evolve if autocatalytic participants mutate or new processes become introduced. The co-evolution of participants in a hypercycle leads to the notion of an ultracycle which generally underlies every learning process'. (38, p. 15)
The question then becomes how many discontinuous phases (Jantsch's 'participants') it is useful to distinguish in the cycle. Too few and the incompatibilities between them are too fundamental, too many and the distinctions between them are too subtle. The operational significance of this conceptual constraint has been explored in earlier papers from which it is apparent that significance is lost if more than about 7 categories are used (39), unless the total breaks down into sub-sets based on simple (e.g. 2,3,5) factors (40).
A novel approach to the learning cycle in relation to action has been taken by Arthur Young (41) as a consequence of his experience as the inventor of the Bell helicopter (whose three-dimensional movement is notoriously difficult to control. He established the vital learning-action link through a new interpretation of the operational significance of the set of 12 'measure formulae' through which material phenomena are observed, acted upon and controlled in physics and engineering. These he portrays as corresponding to a series of phases in a learning-action cycle. Of special interest for the development theme is the significance he attaches to the sequence of movement around the cycle: one direction involving essentially unremembered experience-without-learning, the other involving conscious-learning-action. His approach has been adapted and modified to further emphasize the action-learning significance (Section KD, 33). It is interesting that the philosopher Stephane Lupasco also attaches importance to the analysis of such measures in terms of the polarities they constitute and the types of energy with which they are associated (42, p. 26).
Place Figure 7 here
This approach clarifies how portions of such a cycle are vulnerable to institutionalization (as specialized, independent answer domains, or habital responses) to the extent that there is no learning bridge across the discontinuities. The problem of (social) integration is thus intimately related to the functioning of (collective) learning cycles. It seems probable that needs (and their satisfiers) also relate to different portions of such cycles, as would ranges of incompatible development goals or alternative visions of desirable futures. In each case the point to be emphasized is that such seemingly incompatible fragments are 'frozen' portions of a cycle with which individuals or groups identify. None are of lasting significance in their own right, especially insofar as they hinder the collective learning process which must take place through them.
The facilitative and obstructive factors to further learning (i.e. successful 'struggle' in marxist terms) at each stage in the cycle are probably linked to patterns of complementarity and incompatibility between the stages according to their memberships of (2,3, or 4-member) sub-sets in the cycle (e.g. preceding and succeeding stages in the cycle are in conflictual relationship since they would correspond to thinking of the opposite hemisphere). Answers given from any part of a cycle are of course 'questionable' as perceived from other parts of the cycle.
A single cycle is probably not a sufficiently concrete representation of the complexity to be encompassed by an adequate meta-language. Where several cycles interlock to form a sphere, the nodes are effectively combinations of cyclic phases. The relationships of challenge and harmony between such nodes have been discussed in earlier papers (43, 44, 45) concerning Fuller's tensegrity concept (46).
The acid test of learning cycles however, is whether they can encompass the discontinuities between the major political tendencies by which the world community is seemingly divided. Any such relationship posited must necessarily be highly controversial, but the controversy should be patterned according to the aspects of the learning challenges involved. This has been explored elsewhere (47).
The previous sections consider how various essentially complementary languages
might be fitted together, in effect a 'bottom-up' approach. Further
insight into the information processing problem may be obtained by assuming than
it is biases in man's current mode of thought (especially in the case of Western
man) which cause such languages to be perceived as separate in the first place.
As a theoretical physicist, David Bohm is concerned with the illusory nature of fragmentation (48, 49) and the manner in which distinct fragments emerge from wholeness in movement (50). Hesees the perceptual problems with which he deals as being as relevant to a more healthy response to psychosocial fragmentation as to the problems of fundamental physics. The value of Bohm's perspective for understanding healthy individual development has in fact been recently stressed by a physician Larry Dossey (51).
For Bohm: 'the widespread pervasive distinctions between people (race, nation, family, profession, etc.), which are now preventing mankind from working together for the common good, and indeed, even for survival, have one of the key factors of their origin in a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and 'broken up' into yet smaller constituent parts...considered to be essentially independent and self-existent.' (50, xi).
Attempting to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is then what leads to the growing series of extremely urgent crises with which society is confronted. 'Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are caught up in it.' (50, p. 2). And yet the seeming practicality and convenience of the process of divisive thinking about things supplies man with 'an apparent proof of the correctness of his fragmentary self-world view.'
Basing his investigations on insights from the current state of physics, Bohm focuses 'on the subtle but crucial role of our general forms of thinking in sustaining fragmentation and in defeating our deepest urges toward wholeness or integrity'. (50, p. 3). He arrives at the conclusion that 'our general world view is itself an overall movement of thought, which has to be viable in the sense that the totality of activities that flow out of it are generally in harmony, both in themselves and with regard to the whole existence.' (50, p. xii). This view implies that 'flow is, in some sense, prior to that of the 'things' that can be seen to form and dissolve in this flow'. (50, p. 11). Thus the 'various patterns that can be abstracted from it have a certain relative autonomy and stability, which is indeed provided for by the universal law of the flowing movement'. (50, p. 11).
Of special relevance to the question of human and social development, is that the above- mentioned desirable harmony 'is seen to be possible only if the world view itself takes part in an unending process of development, evolution, and unfoldment, which fits as part of the universal process that is the ground of all existence.' (50, p. xii). This has the merit of grounding the concept of development in movement from which appropriate conceptual and social forms temporarily arise, rather than, as is presently done, starting from some 'thing' (e.g. a society, a community, or a person) which has to be stimulated into a process of movement and change that is then called 'development' (under certain conditions).
Bohm cautions against the expectations of quick remedies: 'To ask how to end fragmentation and to expect an answer in a few minutes makes even less sense than to ask how to develop a theory as new as Einstein's was when he was working on it, and to expect to be told what in terms of some programme, expressed in terms of formulae or recipes...What is needed, however, is somehow to grasp the overall formative cause of fragmentation, in which content and actual process are seen together, in their wholeness'. (50, p. 18).
As he notes, this confronts us with a very difficult challenge: 'How are we to think coherently of a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing both thought (consciousness) andexternal reality as we experience it?' (50, p. x). The approach he suggests requires looking at the challenge in a new way. Instead of aiming for some reflective correspondence between 'thought' and 'reality as a whole' the process of thinking about reality as a whole can more usefully be thought of as a kind of 'dance of the mind' (determining, and being determined) which functions indicatively. (50, pp. 55-6).
Bohm explores the implications of quantum theory as an indication of 'new order'. The questions he raises are also relevant the emergence of any new psychosocial order. He demonstrates that in the past recognition of new patterns of order has involved attention to 'similar differences and different similarities' (50, p. 115), namely the 'irrelevance of old differences, and the relevance of new differences' (50, p. 141). The radical transformation of understanding brought about by quantum theory, for example, results from recognition of the way in which modes of obsevation and of theoretical understanding are related to each other.
For Bohm, however, comprehending the new order bears some resemblance to artistic perception. He uses Piaget's distinction between assimilation (understanding, render comprehensible) and accommodation (adaptation, fitting to a pattern) as the basic modes of intelligent perception. This artistic perception then begins by 'observing the whole fact in its full individuality, and then by degree articulates the order that is proper to the assimilation of this fact.' (50,p.141) Thus it does not begin with abstract preconceptions as to what the order has to be, which are then 'adapted' to the order that is observed.
Bohm uses the differences between a lens system (in measurement processes) and a holographic system to show how by use of the former 'scientists were encouraged to extrapolate their ideas and to think that such an (analytical) approach would be relevant and valid no matter how far they went, in all possible conditions, contexts, and degrees of approximation.'(50,p.144). The advances in relativity and quantum theory imply, however, an undivided wholeness in which such 'analysis into distinct and well-defined parts is no longer relevant.' This is best illustrated by the hologram in which a whole pattern is somehow encoded into each part, no matter how small. The new order appropriate to our time could then be conceived as contained as a totality, encoded in some implicit sense into each region of space and time (50,p.149).
He elaborates an entirely new way of understanding order as 'implicate', or enfolded, which he contrasts with 'explicate' forms that are commonly observed and sought. The simplest example he gives is of a television image, carried by a radio wave in an implicate order, and then explicated by a receiver.
In more general terms, Bohm argues that the underlying wholeness in movement (the 'holomovement'), noted above, acts like the radio wave to 'carry' an implicate order. Under certain circumstances particular things (objects, phenomena, people, nations) can then be unfolded from this dynamic totality by a perceiver, but the holomovement is not limited in any specifiable way at all. As such it does not conform to any particular order and is essentially undefinable and immeasurable. This means that no single theory can capture or contain phenomena on a permanent basis. Rather, each theory will abstract a certain aspect that is relevant only in some limited context, lifting it temporarily into attention so that it stands out in relief (50,p.151). Furthermore, any new order within which a multiplicity of such aspects are 'integrated' is itself not a final goal(as in efforts at 'unified science'), but rather part of a movement from which new wholes are continually emerging (50,p.157).
This approach is very helpful in opening up ways of conceiving development and new forms of social order. In providing a mathematical description of implicate order, for example, Bohm makes a useful distinction between: transformation, as a geometric rearrangement within a given explicate order, and metamorphosis, as a much more radical change (such as between a caterpillar and a butterfly) in which everthing alters, although 'some subtle and highly implicit features remain invariant'(50,p.160). The former characterizes much development thinking, whereas the subtlety of the latter has hitherto made it appear non-operational or equivalent to catastrophe.
Given Atkin's use of simplical complexes to describe social organization, it is also interesting that Bohm suggests the extension of this technique in terms of 'multiplexes' (50,p.166-7). His argument that phenomena need to be perceived as projections of a higher-dimensional reality for which appropriate algebras are required (50,p.188), relates to Thom's concerns with mathematical archetypes (50).
The challenge of Bohm's arguments lies in the manner in which they strike at the very root of the meaning of human and social development. His arguments highlight the extent to which both the physical and social sciences continue to rely on a Cartesian framework (if only in the familiar tabular/matrix presentations characteristic of social science papers) at a time when inherent weaknesses in the thinking behind such frameworks have been demonstrated. His most basic point is that the phenomena such as those which are the preoccupation of 'development' (peoples, ideologies, groups, societies) are essentially derivative. 'The things that appear to our senses are derivative forms and their true meaning can be seen only when we consider the plenum, in which they are generated and sustained, and into which they must ultimately vanish'. (50,p.192) In this light, the basic flaw in present development thinking is the a priori recognition of certain distinct social entities which it now seems desirable to 'develop'.
It is precisely this conception (as argued on different grounds by the world-system theorists) which reduces development to 'sterile' transformative operations and prevents any metamorphoses (to use Bohm's terms). For it is development which precedes and underlies such explicate social entities as a movement from which they have been unfolded: 'what is movement' (50,p.203). Metamorphosis thus calls for ways of unfolding new, currently implicate forms from this holomovement, and enfolding into it those which are currently explicate, but are inadequate to the time. This is far removed from mechanistic efforts to 'eliminate' undesirable structures and to 'build' new ones from their components.
It should not be assumed that this implicate order is an inaccessible theoretical abstraction. Bohm argues that conscionsness itself operates by enfolding and unfolding and that 'not only is immediate experience best understood in terms of the implicate order, but that thought also is basically to be comprehended in this order'. (50,p.204). This creates the possibility for 'an unbroken flowing movement from immediate experience to logical thought and back' thus ending the fragmentation characteristic of the absence of any awareness of such movement (50,p.203). He argues that movement is itself sensed primarily in the implicate order and that Piaget's work 'supports the notion that the experiencing of the implicate order isfundamentally much more immediate and direct than that of the explicate order, which...requires a complex construction that has to be learned' (50,p.206).
Different languages may thus be understood as different ways of unfolding the implicate order. Atkin's work suggests ways in which the intuitively sensed differences between such unfoldings may be articulated in mathematical terms which are highly relevant to the problems of information transfer in modern society.
Although Bohm's perspective clarifies the nature of the problem further, it
does not say anything about the relationship between the different languages
which emerge other than in the sense that they can be re-enfolded into an implicate
order. Since the challenge is to deal with co-existant, and very different, modes
of information processing another perspective is also fruitful.
The set of alternative structures, between which alternation takes place in any learning cycle, may be more clearly understood in the light of the theory of resonance. Johan Galtung first explored the possibility of using the organization of chemical molecules to clarify the description of social organization (53). He dealt with fixed structures and not with the transition between alternatives. The theory of resonance in chemistry is concerned with the representation of the actual normal state of molecules by a combination of several alternative 'resonable' structures, rather than by a single valence-bond structure. The molecule is then conceived as resonating among the several valence-bond structures, or rather to have a structure that is a resonance hybrid of these structures.
The classic example of a resonance hybrid is the benzene molecule of 6 carbon atoms for which F A Kekul introduced the idea of oscillation between two alternative structures. The pattern of oscillation was later extended by Linus Pauling to include three more distinct alternates. The actual configuration is a resonance hybrid of the five forms, which through quantum mechanics has been shown to have an energy less than any of the alternate structures. This is potentially of great significance for any social structure analogue, in view of the call for a low-energy society. Given the fundamental role of the benzene molecular configuration as the basis for most living structures, it is worth asking (in the light of the sixfold restraint discussed in earlier entries) why it is composed of six atoms. The answer is that it is this configuration which ensures minimal strain on the distribution of the four valency bonds of each carbon atom, thus resulting in a minimal energy configuration. It is worth reflecting on this model in the light of the research showing that the upper limit for effective committee or task force organization, the basis for social organization, is seven, plus or minus one.
Such structures recall the context of Bohm's arguments concerning unfoldment of explicate forms. The wave function representing a stationary state of a resonance hybrid in quantum mechanics can be expressed as the sum of the wave functions that correspond to several hypothetical alternates. The proper combination is that sum which leads to a minimal energy for the system. Of significance in any social structure analogue is that the higher energy of each alternate is associated with some degree of 'distortion' (different in kind in each case), which effectively renders the alternate meta-stable. (Also worth exploring is the contrasting concept of a'resonance particle'. This is any exceedingly unstable high energy particle, which may be considered as a composite of several relatively stable low energy particles into which it may decay.)
Resonance hybrids could well provide a key to the conception, design and operation of coalitions of people or groups using forms of information or modes of information processing so different that the coalitions could not cohere for any length of time in one single form but could be stable if the coalition alternated between distinct forms. Underlying this possibility, hybrids are also of interest in integrating incompatible perspectives, paradigms and policies without eroding their distinctiveness in some simplistic compromise. Whilst the value of using such resonance models may be contested, they do have the advantage of shifting the debate, currently somewhat sterile, to a level at which the merits of particular answers are no longer the sole issue. The need is for investigation of 'resonable' structures, however 'unreasonable' they may appear from any particular perspective. They open the way to more fruitful discussions both about how alternation between the contradictory information characteristic of a complex society can be improved and about the kinds of social structures that could be based upon such patterns of alternation.
The argument of the previous sections suggests the need to reinterpret the
significance attached to information 'overload' and 'underuse'. For whilst there
may be a large amount of information circulating, if such information were to be tagged by
the implicit 'language' (in the broad sense of the term used here),
it would become clearer as to why many non-users of that language were avoiding
use of information presented in that language. Such information would be perceived
as presented in an unmeaningful manner and might be subject to strong criticism
totally insensitive to the fact that the information is in effect presented in
a different language which others find useful.
Where there is an excessive amount of information available in the same language, the overload problem needs to be seen in the light of the need for a more selective language to filter out the information which does not contribute to insights at a new level of significance.
Means need to be found to make distinctions between different forms of openness and closure to information. On this question the presentation of Orrin E Klapp 'Opening and Closing' is extremely helpful (54). He argues that it is normal for individuals and societies to alternate between openness and closure to information. This alternation constitutes a strategy of living systems against entropy. The merit of his approach is that he distinguishes between four categories or sectors: bad opening (e.g. information overload) and good opening (e.g. innovation), as well as bad opening (e.g. information overload) and bad closing (e.g. meaningless and banality). He summarizes the situation in the following figure. 'Stresses such as information overload and loss of trust come from straying too far and too often into losing sectors... Strategy requires sensitive alternation of opening and closing according to advantages perceived. Therefore, openness or closedness is not a fixedstructural feature of a system but a changing life strategy of organisness and groups' (54, p. ix).
Klapp sees the challenge of modernization as being one of distinguising more clearly between good opening and bad opening 'Information unbalance, then, is being too long in a losing position in this game, especially in a lower sector of the field... Coping requires continual maneuvering, depending on feedback, one's own state (fatigue, etc), and one's position on the field. Inundated by noise and bad vibrations, one turns toward good closing. Stifled by the banality of a plastic world, one may seek good opening' (54, pp. 158-9). As he stresses, shifting between such different conditions is an appropriate method of responding to the dynamic information environment. This corresponds to the need for 'resonance' as discussed above.
It is difficult to obtain coherent patterns of insights from conventional analyses of the implicit languages used in different sectors of society. There is therefore a strong case for exploring metaphors and patterns of metaphors capable of focussing and highlighting insights. Even in relation to the question of information overload and underuse, Klapp draws attention to the parallel between food and information (54, p. 156) :
In the light of this metaphor it is interesting to reflect on the problems of food
sarcity and surpluses in the world. The conceptual and other factors which engender such
penury and surpluses are to a large extent reflected in the creation, storage and
distribution of information.
The difficulty in exploring patterns of alternation between languages is the seeming lack of concrete (as opposed to abstract) examples by which the credibility of such patterns in practice may become apparent. The rotation of agricultural crops is therefore an interesting'earthy' practice to explore in the light of the mind-set which it has required of farmers for several thousand years.
Crop rotation is the alternation of different crops in the same field in some (more or less) regular sequence. It differs from the haphazard change of crops from time to time; in that a deliberately chosen set of crops is grown in succession in cycles over a period of years. Rotations may be of any length, being dependent on soil, climate, and crop. They are commonly of 3 to 7 years duration, usually with 4 crops (some of which may be grown twice in succession). The different crop rotations on each of the fields of the set making up the farm as a whole constitute a 'crop rotation system' when integrated optimally. Long before crop rotation became a science, practice demonstrated that crop yields decline if the same crop is grown continuously in the same place. There are therefore many benefits, both direct and indirect to be obtained from good rotational (55, pp. 170-8) :
The situation is somewhat different in the case of single-species forests where
'rotation' is the guiding principle in the special sense of the economic age to
which each crop can be grown before it is succeeded by the next one. (For example, on a
100-year rotationrequired for oak, one per cent of the forest would be clear out each
year, and a further 20 percent thinned out). In total contrast to crop rotation is the
'monoculture' cropping system in which the same crop is grown every year. This
is possible on a large scale only by the heavy application of chemical fertilizers,
herbicides and pesticides. It leads to long-term problems of soil structure and erosion,
as well as to the accumulation of pollutants.
Because of the short-term advantages of fertilizers, efforts to design new approaches to crop rotation have been limited. It is only with the resurgence of interest in non- exploitive, non-polluting agriculture that such possibilities are being investigated (56). From an agronomist's perspective, the problem is to strike a balance between harmonizing the three-fold soil-plant-climate relationship and those of the economic constraints of production. Because such threefold relationships are now fairly well understood, rotation cycles can non be considered as a whole in which the order and the plants used are of secondary importance. The problem is to ensure that the soil-plant-climate relationship is in an optimally balanced state at every moment in order to become increasingly independent of its past. The production constraints complicate this evolution and the choices possible, especially when requirements change rapidly withouth taking into account the recent history of a crop rotation (56).
There is a striking parallel between the rotation of crops and the succession of (governmental) policies applied in a society. The contrast is also striking because of the essentially haphazard switch between 'right' and 'left' policies. There is little explicit awareness of the need for any rotation to correct for negative consequences ('pests') encourages by each and to replenish the resources of society ('nutrients', 'soil structure') which each policy so characteristically depeletes.
There is no awareness, for example, of the number of distinct policies or languages through which is is useful to rotate. Nor is it known how many such distinct cycles are necessary for an optimally integrated world society in which the temporary failure of one language or paradigm, due to adverse circumstances (disaster) is compensated by the success of others. It is also interesting that during a period of increasing complaint regarding cultural homogenization ('monoculture'), voters are either confronted with single-party systems or are frustrated by the lack of real choice between the alternatives offered. There is something to be learnt from the mind-sets and social organizations associated with the stages in the history of crop rotation which evolved, beyond the slash-and-burn stage, through a 2-year crop-fallow rotation, to more complex 3 and 4-year rotations. Given the widespread sense of increasing impoverishment of the quality-of-life, consideration of crop rotation may clarify ways of thinking about what is being depleted, how to counteract this process, and the nature of the resources that are so vainly (and expensively) used as 'fertilizer' and 'pesticide' to keep the system going in the short-term. The 'yield' to be maximized is presumably human and social development.
The arguments presented suggest the value of exploring means of shifting between languages in order to place information 'overload' and 'underuse' in a dynamic context. The challenge may well be less a question of replacing the existing condition as of finding ways of shifting between its sub-conditions in a healthy manner. In arguing for a heterogeneity of expistemologies, Maruyama offers a beautifulmetaphor in response to the (homogenistic) question 'but which one is correct ?' He suggests that in binocular vision it is irrelevant to raise the question as to which eye is correct and which wrong. 'Binocular vision works, not because two eyes see different sides of the same object, but because the differential between the two images enables the brain to compute the invisible dimension' (15, p. 84). The brain computes a third dimension which cannot be directly perceived and if we live in a multidimensional space even more epistemological 'eyes' are required (16, p.269-272). Reducing such vision to the parts in common provides much less than monocular vision. Each 'eye' has its inherent limitations and strengths, and the homogenistic 'eye' presumably also has its own vital contribution to make to the process of encompassing (or responding to) the complexity of our collective condition. His work, with Harvey's (19), demonstrates that a minimum of four such 'eyes' are required to describe the variety of perceptions of our collective reality.
This paper has assembled together a range of pointers to a fundamental problem
of information exchange between languages as it might affect issues of information
overload and information underuse. Whilst it is relatively easy to ignore the
problem when operating within a single (conceptual) language framework, such
an attitude would appear to be highly suspect when dealing with the movement
of information between different (conceptual) languages or schools of thought.
Whilst there are strong and independent pointers to the existence of the problem,
these are not yet sufficient to indicate its dimensions. The problem is also
easily dismissed by those who are satisfied by the fact that tangible objects
such as 'shoe' or 'spade' can be denoted by
suitable words under practical conditions. There is however sufficient indication
that such satisfaction may be quite premature. For whilst difficulties may be
more limited in the case of specific tangible objects, this is far from being
the case when dealing with generic and abstract concepts.
In the haste of the international community to ensure global communication, the differences in the conceptual structures associated with different languages, ideologies and schools of thought are being ignored. Where the matter is studied it is studied as a problem of translation not as a problem of conceptual ordering intimately associated with the language or culture. Nor are these differences mere curiosities, rather they appear to be distinct ways of ordering understanding of the environment. As J Fraser notes in 'The Voices of Time':
'What for one discipline constitutes necessary and sufficient proof, may be judged from the perspective of another field as neither a necessary nor a sufficient demonstration of fact or truth. What by one set of standards is a salutary and correct argument may sometimes be held, by another set of standards, as a useless waste of energy... Categories of self-expression are not emotionally neutral devices upon which people happen by chance. They are rooted in different ways of life which the disciples seek because they find them satisfying. Of course, it is people and not things who have peronalities, but men and women group themselves accordingly and thereby create, and reinforce, the personalities of their professions' (9, xxvi-xxvii).
And it is such differences which are capable of exerting a strong influence on the underuse of information.
The problem of underuse is further aggravated by the mutually exclusive nature of languages. In employing one such conceptual language, one is deprived of the possibility of making simultaneous use of some appropriate complementary language. In response to this constraint there would seem to be a case for exploring 'configurations of languages' and the dynamics of transfer between the languages of the configuration in order to encompass phenomena which are excessively distorted by the capacities of any one language.
The variety of languages may be treated either as an inconvenient obstacle or as a conceptual resource. As a conceptual resource to determine the strengths and weaknesses of languages under different circumstances, the most promising method of conducting such an investigation appears to be through an adaptation of q-analysis with its explicit recognition of the complex geometries on which people function and which are presumably reflected in the conceptual structure of the language they use. The key to understanding the function of language variety in relation to information overload and underuse would then lie in understanding how information flows through such geometries.
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