Dimensions of Comprehension Diversity

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This annex to Comprehension of Appropriateness presents some evidence for the variety of preferred modes of comprehension which must necessarily be honoured by any appropriate new mode of socio-economic organization, if only to avoid being eventually undermined by one of them.

(a) Frames of mind : multiple intelligences

A measure of intelligence may be considered as a measure of the individuals 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 (25). 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 meaningful 'information' about any new mode of socio-economic organization 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:

  • linguistic intelligence, including: a sensitivity to the meaning of words and their subtle shades of difference; a sensitivity to the order among words and the rules governing such order; a sensitivity to the sounds, rhythms, inflections and meters of words; and a sensitivity to the different functions of language, namely its potential for exciting, convincing, stimulating, conveying information, or simply providing pleasure. Strangely however he makes no mention of competence in languages other than the mother tongue.
  • musical intelligence, including: sensitivity to pitch (or melody); sensitivity to rhythm, namely the organization of pitch over time; and sensitivity to timbre or the characteristic qualities of a tone.
  • logico-mathematical intelligence, including: sensitivity to possibilities of ordering and reordering objects, assessing their quantity; sensitivity to the actions that can be performed on objects, the relations that obtain among those actions, the statements (or propositions) that can be made about actual or potential actions, and the relationships among those statements.
  • spatial intelligence, including: capacities to perceive the visualworld accurately, to perform transformations and modifications upon initial perceptions, and to re-create aspects of visual experience, even in the absence of physical stimuli.
  • bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, including: the ability to use one's body in highly differentiated and skilled ways, for expressive as well as goal-directed purposes; the capacity to work skillfully with objects, both those involving delicate movements of the fingers and those involving complex movements of the body. (Gardner points out that the tendency to denigrate physical skills, in contrast to skills of the mind, is a Western academic bias not necessarily characteristic of other cultures).
  • personal intelligences, including: access to one's own feeling life and the capacity to affect discriminations among those feelings, to label them, to enmesh them in symbolic codes, to draw upon them as a means of understanding and guiding behaviour; the ability to notice and make distinctions among other individuals, especially among their moods, temperaments, motivations and intentions.

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 disguised forms.

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. (25, 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 (25, p.55).

(b) Axes of bias

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 and are therefore ignored, to the extent possible. This problem has been explored by the philosopher W T Jones (26) 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' anaxis gives rise to discontinuity which it is difficult to handle within a rational frame of reference. The axes identified by Jones are:

  • Order vs disorder, namely the range between a preference for fluidity, muddle, chaos, etc. and a preference for system, structure, conceptual clarity, etc.
  • Static vs dynamic, namely the range between a preference for fluidity, muddle, chaos, etc. and a preference for movement, for explanation in genetic and process terms, etc.
  • Continuity vs discreteness, namely the range between a preference for wholeness, unity, etc and a preference for discreteness, plurality, diversity, etc.
  • Inner vs outer, namely the range between a preference for being able to project oneself into the objects of one's experience (to experience them as one experiences oneself), and a preference for a relatively external, objective relation to them.
  • Sharp focus vs soft focus, namely the range between a preference for clear, direct experience and a preference for threshold experiences which are felt to be saturated with more meaning than is immediately present.
  • This world vs other world, namely the range between a preference for belief in the spatio-temporal world as self-explanatory and a preference for belief that it is not self-explanatory (but can only be comprehended in the light of other factors and frames of reference).
  • Spontaneity vs process, namely the range between a preference for chance, freedom, accident, etc and a preference for explanations subject laws and definable processes.

(c) Epistemological mindscapes

In a series of articles, Magoroh Maruyama has studied patterns of cognition, perception, conceptualization, design, planning and decision processes (18, 19, 27, 28). 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' (29). 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 (19). 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 (19, p. 6). He stresses that these are not meant to be either mutually exclusive nor exhaustive 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' (19, p. 142). Over the years he has continued to struggle with the same attributes, grouping them first into three types (27), extended to four (18), then to five (27) and now seemingly stabilized at four again (28).

The four types are:

  • H-mindscape (homogenistic, hierarchical, classificational): Parts are subordinated to the whole, with subcategories neatly grouped into supercategories. The strongest, or the majority, dominate at the expense of the weak or of any minorities. Belief in existence of the one truth applicable to all (e.g. whether values, policies, problems, priorities, etc.). Logic is deductive and axiomatic demanding sequential reasoning. Cause-effect relations may be deterministic or probabilistic.
  • I-mindscape (heterogenistic, individualistic, random): Only individuals are real, even when aggregated into society. Emphasis on self-sufficiency, independence and individual values. Design favours the random, the capricious and the unexpected. Scheduling and planning are to be avoided. Non-random events are improbable. Each question has its own answer; there are no universal principles.
  • S-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive, homeostatic): Society consists of heterogeneous individuals who interact non-hierarchically to mutual advantage. Mutual dependency. Differences are desirable and contribute to the harmony of the whole. Maintenance of the natural equilibrium. Values are interrelated and cannot be rank-ordered. Avoidance of repetition. Causal loops. Categories not mutually exclusive. Objectivity is less useful than 'cross-subjectivity' or multiple viewpoints. Meaning is context dependent.
  • G-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive, morphogenetic): Heterogeneous individuals interact non-hierarchically for mutual benefit, generating new patterns and harmony. Nature is continually changing requiring allowance for change. Values interact to generate new values and meanings. Values of deliberate (anticipatory) incompleteness. Causal loops. Multiple evolving meanings.

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 (18, 19, 28). 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 (28) compared his four types with an extensive survey of epistemological data grouped by O J Harvey into four 'systems' (20).

  • System I: (a) High absolutism, closedness of beliefs, high evaluativeness, high positive dependence on representatives of institutional authority, high identification with social roles and status position, high conventionality, high ethnocentrism.
  • System II: (b) Deep feelings of uncertainty, distrust of authority, rejection of socially approved guidelines to action accompanied by lack of alternative referents, psychological vacuum, rebellion against social prescriptions, avoidance of dependency on God and tradition.
  • System III: (c) Manipulation of people through dependency upon them, fairly high skills in effecting desired outcomes in his world through the techniques of having others do it for him, some autonomous internal standards especially in social sphere, some positive ties to the prevailing social norms.
  • System IV: (d) High perceived self-worth despite momentary frustrations and deviation from the normative, highly differentiated and integrated cognitive structure, flexible, creative and relative in thought and action, internal standards that are independent of external criteria, in some cases coinciding with social definitions and in other cases not.

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.

(d) Modal preferences: facets of an appropriate mode

As noted above, the absence of systematic research makes it difficult to clarify the effects of culture on information processing and the implications for any preferred mode of socio-economic organization. A number of practical dimensions of the problem have been reviewed in a series of studies by Edward T Hall (31, 32, 33, 34) and in a seminal review by Andreas Fuglesang (35). 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 (36). 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 --which might otherwise be assumed to constitute a fairly homogeneous set. 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 thedifferences demonstrated in the study 'have profound consequences for the validity of the transfer of theories and working methods from one country to another' (36, p. 12). This suggests associated consequences for the use of information 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, and hence on the manner in which any new mode of socio-economic organization might be articulated.

Hofstede isolated four main dimensions on which country cultures differ:

  •  power distance, namely the attitude to human inequality. The index developed grouped information on perceptions of an organizational superior's style, colleagues' fear to disagree with the superior, and the type of decision-making that subordinates prefer in a superior. This clearly has implications for the way in which any new mode could be credibly implemented and managed within any particular culture.
  •  uncertainty avoidance, namely the tolerance for uncertainty which determines choices of technology, rules and rituals to cope with it in organizations. The index developed grouped information on rule orientation, employment stability and stress. This clearly has implications for the degree to which plannin is perceived as helpful or rather as an intolerable constraint (a 'colonization of the future').
  •  individualism, namely the relationship between the individual and the collectivity which prevails in a given society, especially as reflected in the way people choose to live and work together. The index distinguises between the importance attached to personal life and the importance attached to organizational determination of life style and orientation. This clearly has implications for any group's willingness to act in the interests of the community as a whole rather than to further its own interests.
  •  masculinity, namely the extent to which the biological differences between the sexes should or should not have implications for social activities that are transferred by socialization in families, schools, peer groups and through the media. The index developed measures the extent to which people endorse goals more popular with men or with women. This could well have implications for the manner in which a community deals with major differences and potentially polarized situations.

Hofstede presents an integration of these four dimensions (see Figures 5 and 6). 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 exhaustive.

************************** Place Figures 5 and 6 here **************************

Of special interest in terms of this paper is that Hofstede indicates, for each of the four dimensions, the consequences for:

  •  political systems
  •  religious life and philosophical and ideological thinking
  •  organizations.

In so doing he comes very close to rendering explicit the implications for information processing and any new mode of socio-economic organization. An attempt at rendering these implications explicit is made in Annex 3. This suggests how Hofstede's four dimensions might be interpreted to throw light on the information processing differences between cultures which would determine how any such new mode might be perceived and received.

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' (37) 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' (37, p. 20).

He continues: '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' (37, pp. 20-21).

In a section entitled 'Des modéles 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'. (37, 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:

  • Centralized structures
    • Pyramidal monarchy: Ashanti, Bemba (Zambia), Xhosas (South Africa), Hayas (Tanzania), Oyos (Nigeria), Balubas (Zaire), Langos (Uganda).
    • Associative monarchy: Mandes and Senoufos (WestAfrica).
    • Centralized monarchy: Mossis (Upper Volta), Fipas (Tanzania), Zulus and Swazis (South Africa), Hovas-Mrinas (Madagascar), Fons (Bénin).
  • Segmented structures
    • Classical segmented system: Krous (Libria and Ivory Coast, Ibos (Nigeria), Lobis (Upper Volta and Ivory Coast), Nuers (Sudan), Kikuyu (Kenya), Tallensis (Ghana), Somalis (Somalia).
    • Universalist segmented systems: Masais, Kipsigis, Merus (all in Kenya).
    • Ritually stratified systems: Ankalis (Uganda), Chillouks (Sudan), Tks (Zaire).
    • Autonomous village and city-state: Balous and Bakons (Ivory Coast), Ibibas (Nigeria).

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