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Transdisplinarity-3 as the Emergence of Patterned Experience

Transcending duality as the conceptual equivalent of learning to walk (Part II)

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Contribution to the 1st World Congress of Transdisciplinarity Arrabida, Portugal, November 1994. Abridged version published in: Jose Manuel Ferreira (Ed.) Proceedings of the First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity. Lisbon: Hugin Editores, 1998. Also published in Journal of the Interdisciplinary Crossroads, Volume 2, No. 2, August 2005 [abstract]

CONTENTS - PART II only (see also Part I)

D. WALKING METAPHOR: The fundamental challenge to understanding



D. Walking Metaphor: the fundamental challenge to understanding

Learning to walk as a metaphor for transcending duality

Contemporary society is bedeviled by dilemmas, dualities and polarized debates, especially in the political arena. No satisfactory way has been found to transcend this condition. The response has been to favour democratically one pole of a dilemma at the expense of another for as long as this is feasible -- however obvious it becomes that both extremes hold vital truths for society. The discussion above draws attention to the polarization between objective (extensive) and subjective (intensive) knowledge as expressed through Transdisciplinarity-1 and 2. It is argued that Transdisciplinarity-3 could constitute a framework which can hold such paradoxical relationships between totally incompatible modes of awareness.

But the challenge to understanding of Transdisciplinarity-3 is absolutely fundamental. It is not simply the resolution of an intellectual game of thesis/antithesis/synthesis, as should be obvious from the difficulties in dealing with such extremes, if only in the political arena.

There is therefore merit in learning from a metaphor based on experience to which all have been exposed, namely learning to walk. This is not a static, mechanistic process. Coordinating leg movement to the degree that makes it possible to stand upon two legs, and walk with them, is far from being simple. Transcending dualities can usefully be seen through such a metaphor, because walking is considered so trivial once it has been learnt. It is not however seen as trivial by an infant or by those who have to relearn it after an accident.

As infants (the biblical 'little children' that we are enjoined to be), sitting up and crawling with four limbs are the initial challenges. Two limbs may then be used for balance and holding on, whilst the other two are then used to stand and walk upon. The coordination of several hundred muscles is required (labelled primitively in political terms as 'checks and balances'). It can take a year to learn (or relearn).

The challenges of transcending dualities can be seen in the light of the stages of learning to walk. There are questions of security and fear of falling, which may require an unhabitual act of faith in the stability of the walking process (as is the case in learning to ride a bicycle). Associated with this is the problem of holding on, and learning to detach oneself from support structures. There is the challenge of orientation, notably whilst in movement. But the art lies in the process of alternation through which the load is shifted between the two supporting legs as they are moved in sequence. There is an intuitive appreciation of this in the arguments for alternation between parties in government (especially appreciated as 'alternance' in French) -- although the current procedures for achieving this can only be described as chaotic and reminiscent of a drunkard attempting to walk (although the equivalent challenge for a spastic might be even more descriptive).

The challenge of Transdisciplinarity-3 is therefore a challenge to learn a pattern experience which is essentially dynamic. It is a pattern of movement which ensures stability (as is the case in certain meditative breathing exercises). People are only able to stand still by ensuring the continuous interplay of certain sets of muscles and processes. Taking advantage of Transdisciplinarity-3 calls for the ability to continually reconfigure, as is the case with walking. Such dynamic stability could be considered an important feature of 'sustainability'.

Polarities as limbs

Following the above arguments, polarities can be used like limbs to support a body of awareness. To understand experientially what is a limb in this context, there may be merit in exploring the evolutionary origin of limbs -- on the understanding that 'psychogeny' may replicate ontogeny. And a form of psychogeny may be replicated during daily life. The simpler forms of integrative experience can be considered amoeboid or amorphous. For example, sleepily stretching out an arm from bed in the morning to turn off an alarm clock bears more resemblance to extruding a reabsorbable pseudopod than using a limb. There may well be stages to patterned experience equivalent to the emergence of true opposing limbs, passing though those of an insectoid nature. How many limbs does one need to support one's current body of awareness?

Such conceptual limbs can be used for locomotion through a more paradoxical space. As is already evident, they can be used as weapons in attack and struggle. One pole of any polarity is always a useful weapon to attack another (objectivity vs subjectivity, head vs heart, abstract vs concrete, left vs right, etc). Other kinds of struggle become possible when the use of both limbs can be coordinated.

Polarities as limbs can also be used for mutual support: in a wind, on a cliff, when intoxicated, etc. Other kinds of support may be possible when use of both limbs can be coordinated. There is a need to be attentive to efforts to handicap collective awareness by effectively cutting off a limb to repress one polar alternative. This leads to conditions analogous to paraplegia, where locomotion is only possible by limping or hopping, if at all. Reluctance to challenge, formulate reservations and use negatives has become a new form of social disease, notably in North America. Our civilization may yet sink under the weight of upbeat reporting and the inability to face up to challenges.

Polyhedral organization and 'limb responsibility'

The above arguments point to the importance of configuring polarities as a way of creating transcendent frameworks (Judge, 1994). In such configurations of categories, there wouldneed to be concern for the health of the extremes -- a form of 'limb responsibility', if the configuration of categories is expected to support a new body of awareness.

Whether in the case of a conceptual framework or a social group, the process of configuration may variously be compared to the construction of a body, a walking frame or a house. It is a form of conceptual scaffolding.

E. Implications

International organizations

The universe of some 20,000 international organizations, many with hundreds of specialized departments, is a major transdisciplinary challenge. There is much debate on the future form of world governance in response to the multitude of world problems that stubbornly refuse to respect the categories of conceptual disciplines. It is clear that past uni-disciplinary methodologies, and the programmes and institutions they have inspired, have been less than successful in constraining these problems. There has been little innovative learning in relation to interdisciplinary programmes -- although it has been easy to claim that interdisciplinarity was achieved when any cluster of disciplines was gathered together in its name.

Unfortunately, as with their national counterparts, international organizations are locked into traditional modes of hierarchical organization and departmental specialization. Efforts to break out of this mould through the use of networks have facilitated certain forms of communication but have not responded to the challenge of ensuring appropriate contact between social units with complementary but incompatible skills. Networks tend to become incestuous and 'flabby', designing out variety and the 'holding' of essential differences and tensions. Many have been consoled by the claim that praxis and concrete projects ('in the field') effectively resolved any challenges of interdisciplinary organization.

Ironically it is multinational corporations that have been more successful in experimenting with flexible organization and integration of work units -- facilitated however by the simplicity of their objective. The challenge of transdisciplinary organization remains to be articulated for international organizations. UNESCO is the intergovernmental organization with the principal mandate in this respect and its support for this Congress is to be welcomed.

Conference configuration

Conferences are one of the principal arenas through which social policies are explored and articulated in the light of emerging problems and conceptual advances. There has been remarkably little innovation in conferences and they are notable for the low level of expectations which they raise in those with any experience of them. No attention has been given to the design of transdisciplinary conferences (Judge, 1994)

There is a dilemma in conference organization. On the one hand, consistent with the systemic insights associated with Transdisciplinarity-1, considerable respect is accorded to the disciplinary and logistical constraints that make the event an objective success. But few mechanisms have been found to circumvent them in order to enrich the transdisciplinary dimension through which genuine cross-fertilization of ideas and insights occurs. And on the other hand, conferences devote considerable resources to entertainment, giving participants a good time through extra-mural activities, in order that the event should be experienced asa qualitative success -- somewhat consistent with the modalities of Transdisciplinarity-2. It is widely accepted that the most useful features of a conference are outside the formal sessions -- often around a coffee table or in the bar.

The question is whether there is a case for exploring patterned experience to increase the value of conferences -- using frameworks consistent with Transdisciplinarity-3. The challenge can be seen in the design of conference programmes. In the majority of cases these have the structure of nested list of agenda points lacking any explicit systemic relationship. Parallel agendas may be organized through parallel sessions with a primitive technique of reporting back to the plenary. Major conferences may be designed as multi-track events with little attempt at integrating the specialized sessions. The programme matrix is then the only integrative conceptual framework. Although this is consistent with administrative and faculty organization, there is very little chance that integrative dimensions can successfully emerge from such crude formal structures. And with the best will in the world, conference organizers are often a victim of architectural constraints over which they have little control. Seats bolted to the floor of a conference room are highly indicative of the limited integrative potential of any gathering therein, especially when participants aspire to some form of collective self-transformation.

The special challenge for conferences of any social significance is how to configure the event so that there is some possibility of responding creatively and transformatively to a set of polarized issues. This can be seen as a design problem of conceptual geometry with implications for the social organization of the event. Given the practical architectural constraints, the main hope for innovative reconfiguration of the emerging insights lies through the use of information systems with appropriate forms of audio-visual support. Unfortunately almost no attention has been given to visually tracking a debate so that participants can respond to an integrative representation of the range of points made. This is a software challenge for the immediate future.

Information systems: Internet

As implied above, it is within the context of electronic information systems that opportunities to explore knowledge frameworks of different configurations can most easily be explored --especially if they are to be related to creative and transformative work associated with conferencing.

Steps in this direction include the many attempts at workgroup software (groupware) and situation rooms. However their functions are usually limited in such a way as to reinforce traditional category boundaries. The exception is in the case of task forces that resolve the traditional challenges of transdisciplinarity in the name of project constraints and deadlines.

The challenges of transdisciplinarity have been avoided within Internet by using 'knowbots' (gophers, veronica, archie, etc) to organize information in the light of user queries. The fact that many of these are deliberately based on rodent or ferret-type metaphors is an indication of the quality of organization expected. It is fair to say, at this early point in its evolution, that the conceptual organization of Internet is a mess reflecting the crudest approaches of traditional librarianship.

Much more interesting possibilities are suggested by the current work of Stafford Beer (President of the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics) which has led to the development of a set of electronic protocols governing workgroup communication (Beer,1994). This is based on the structure of an icosahedron and is named 'syntegrity'. A world-wide testing programme was launched in 1994. Just how such principles of organization might be used to order communication within Internet remains to be explored.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the challenges of knowledge organization can be at least partly defined in terms of choice of metaphor. This is fundamental to the design of many software systems. New spatial metaphors are being sought which could increase the ability to handle complexity (Benking and Judge, 1994). A key issue is whether these will facilitate Transdisciplinarity-3 understanding. It is perhaps ironic that it could be argued that the huge video-game market is a crude response to experiential needs more closely associated with Transdisciplinarity-2, and that little effort has been made to respond to the needs of Transdisciplinarity-1 -- possibly with the exception of certain forms of mind-mapping (Buzan, 1994) and hypertext mapping (Horn, 1989).

Community based on patterned experience

Community is, or should constitute, an integrative system -- transcending the specialized disciplinary concerns of its members in their various roles. Urbanization has encouraged the emergence of one kind of community sustained by the understanding of urban architects, bureaucrats, politicians and the forces of consumerism. There have been many efforts to experiment with alternative styles of community in reaction to the alienating features of such technocratic modernism. The design of 'sustainable communities' is now becoming a central political concern as a result of appreciation of the need for dramatic lifestyle changes in response to environmental constraints and concern for quality of life.

There is a dilemma with regard to community design. Many with relevant skills see it as primarily involving ecologically appropriate designs of community infrastructure -- a feature of Transdisciplinarity-1. The emphasis is placed on alternative technologies and techniques as a precondition of richer community life -- apparently ignoring the challenges of the multitude of decaying neighbourhood communities inhabited by the financially impoverished. An alternative technocracy is emerging in support of this approach. This approach sees individual behaviour as being determined by architecture and technology, improvements to the physical environment are assumed to improve the spirit and the mind. This environmentalist perspective ignores the lessons of high rise apartment buildings and other disastrous urban planning experiments.

Almost no attention is paid to the subjective experiential relationships between people -- the shared subjectivity (characteristic of Transdisciplinarity-2) through which community is given nonphysical meaning essential to the quality of community life. Indeed there is no language or methodology within which these issues can be articulated. In the design of 'eco-villages', there is no place for the softer sciences (whose views on the community experiments of the past are not solicited). And where the softer sciences are consulted, it tends to be on the externalities of governance, power structure and division of labour -- for these disciplines necessarily lack any skills in exploring experiential dimensions. Where these are valued, this leaves the subjective dimensions to be articulated by manipulative charismatic leaders, occasionally with disastrous results.

In the light of the above arguments, what is the key to a community based on pattern experience? What prevents a community from 'taking' and 'thriving'? Stress is sometimes placed on the emergence of community 'solidarity' -- whether at grassroots or global community levels. Such understanding is based on an interesting metaphoric distortion. Whyshould 'solid' be favoured over 'liquid', or over the other states of matter suggested by that metaphor? Surely a richer quality of life, consistent with the framework of Transdisciplinarity-3, would emphasize the interrelationship between these states -- especially since these are characterized by different kinds of (atomic) bonding. Community surely merits from being understood in terms of the full variety of (experiential) bondings and the processes through which they are transformed from one to another. If participants are to be considered like atoms, since when did community require regimentation (to the point of solidity) to be considered a success?

Poetry-making and Policy-making: arranging a marriage between Beauty and the Beast

Following the encouragement of the director of the School of Poetry in Vienna, a project has been initiated to focus on the insights common to the processes of poetry-making and policy-making (Judge, 1993). In this context these may be seen as exemplifying the skills of Transdisciplinarity-2 and Transdisciplinarity-1 respectively. Note the emphasis on the creative process of 'making' rather than the performance of poetry or the implementation of policy. This project is an attempt to explore the nature of Transdisciplinarity-3. It might include related arts such as music and drama.

The project acquires its legitimacy from the fact that many highly placed policy-makers, including the Director-General of UNESCO, are also poets in their own right. Examples range from Jimmy Carter to Ho Chi Minh. The skills of poetry and policy have been intimately related in the past, notably in Chinese and Japanese culture. Machiavelli himself was a poet. The question is whether their inability to give expression to the integration of these skills in subtler forms of policy-making implies that Transdisciplinarity-3 is not a practical reality, or whether steps can be taken to facilitate such integration and an entirely new approach to policy-making.

Patterned experience as a conceptual 'zero'

There is merit in speculating on the possibility that, in terms of the ability to organize knowledge, our civilization is effectively at a stage prior to recognition of the value of zero in number systems. From this perspective many of our struggles with the organization of knowledge might be seen as endeavouring to engage in calculations using roman numerals (I, IV, IX) lacking any zero, rather than the present system (2, 3, 4). The use of 0 in the UDC for 'generalities' may simply disguise this reality. The challenge of the much sought paradigm shift might be described metaphorically in terms of how to understand that we are trapped into a conceptual calculus with the limitations of the roman number system.

History indicates that there was remarkable resistance to accepting the value of zero and all that it implied. Brian Rotman (1987) argues:

In the light of the arguments of this paper, the 'orb' of patterned experience around the experiencer might usefully be understood as the zero of a configurative numbering system. This system would emphasize configuration of knowledge -- but around the experiencer.

This configurative system would be characterized by comprehension of patterning through successive stages of subdivision of the whole by which the experiencer was surrounded. These subdivisions could be closely associated with polyhedra, especially in the light of the mnemonic value of their properties of symmetry (Judge, 1994). They are also associated with the representation and comprehension of sets and balancing configurations of social functions (Judge, 1978, 1979). Experientially such a zero sets the stage for a new genesis of what 'is', 'is not', and the subsequent dynamic between them, that gives rise to tensions and incommensurabilities that must be resolved at a higher structural level.


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