16th December 2000
Enhancing the Quality of Knowing
through Integration of East-West metaphors
- / -
Paper prepared for the conference on 'Knowledge and East-West Traditions'
(Bangalore, December 2000), sponsored by the National Institute of Advanced
Studies (Bangalore), History of Science Association (Japan), Third World Network
(Penang), Vidyartha Centre for Science and Technology (Colombo), Heinrich-Boell
Foundation (Germany), UNESCO (Jakarta and Korea), Futures journal, World
Future Studies Federation (WFSF), Third World Studies Center (University of the Philippines),
Asian Center (University of the Philippines)
The paper briefly contrasts the commodification of knowledge,
with its embodiment, its expression in relationship, or as a worldview. This is
used to raise the possibility of forms of knowledge that may be relatively incomprehensible
or incoherent to western-style science. Some social implications of knowledge
organization are reviewed in the light of 'field', as an agricultural
metaphor basic to knowledge work that helps to clarify issues of fragmentation,
monoculture and integration. This metaphor is then used to clarify knowledge issues
further in relation to: intellectual property and its possession; dispossession
and resettlement; movement between fields; and embodiment. This framework introduces
the challenge to science of set organization and comprehension, notably as a vehicle
for identity and provision of coherence. Metaphors for understanding dynamics
within sets are then presented as conceptual scaffolding, with 'global'
offered as a cognitive challenge and 'crop-rotation' in fields as an
example of a higher level of ordering set elements. Attention is drawn to the
richness of eastern cultures as a source of relevant metaphors, emphasizing the
use of 're-reading' as a metaphorical method. Some fundamental cognitive
challenges are reviewed to which science eastern-style might therefore offer insights:
polarization, territoriality and globality (using the I Ching as an illustrative
metaphor); subjectivity vs objectivity; relationship and community (based on richer
patterns of relationship between knower and known, notably in the light of eastern
sexual metaphors); use of archetypal knowledge objects in computers in support
of such insights; as well as questions of succinctness and comprehensibility in
a period of increasing information overload and underuse. Ultimately the challenge
is to design containers for meaning more appropriate to the challenges of society.
This paper proceeds from the assumption that there is something missing in
the current pursuit and articulation of knowledge. It is however far from clear
exactly what is missing. In the light of the conference theme, it might be referred
to as some form of "missing link" between eastern and western approaches
to understanding -- perhaps best held currently by the tensions between them.
It might be that it is qualities from eastern insight that are designed out
of western approaches, reducing the quality of the resulting knowledge. It might
be that the meaning of any form of "integration" or synthesis is elusive from
a western perspective -- or from a purely eastern perspective. It might be that
the purpose of the pursuit of knowledge has itself been eroded of meaning within
a purely western context. As expressed by Susantha Goonatilake (1999): 'the
modern agenda has run out of steam' (p.3).
Others have stressed the merits of the western approach or deplored the failure
to acknowledge and integrate insights arising in the East or in indigenous cultures
(Darrell A. Posey, 1999). This paper is therefore an effort to identify some
reference points in terms of which future enhancement of the quality of knowing
might perhaps be considered.
The fundamental assumption questioned is whether the priority for the immediate
future is ever more quantities of western knowledge, or whether there is a need
for the existing knowledge base to be strongly complemented by another kind
of knowledge -- to ensure quality of life in sustainable global development.
Or, as expressed by Goonatilake (1999): 'These quantitative changes [in
growth of science] will require qualitative shifts in the nature of science.'
A. Beyond the commodification of knowledge
There is a long tradition of treatment of knowledge as a commodity to be sought,
bought and sold, and -- above all -- exclusively possessed. This is most evident
in the case of military intelligence -- as currently epitomized by the Echelon
electronic surveillance system. Increasingly it is evident in the many dimensions
of intellectual property -- especially within the emergent information society.
It is part of development aid negotiations for the acquisition of "know-how".
It is also evident in educational processes through which knowledge is "acquired",
possibly against payment of fees to educational institutions or tutors. And
it is even evident in the acquisition of spiritual knowledge from people of
There is now a strong movement to build the future global economy on knowledge
and its commodification -- as exemplified by the World Bank's Global Knowledge
and the ASIS Strategic Alliance for a Sustainable Information Society (http://asis.jrc.es/html/fsummary.html).
Such dematerialization is considered a valuable step away from the focus on
material goods. Countries of the East are being encouraged to rise to the challenge
of staking their place in this highly competitive knowledge economy -- and much
is made of their potential in the software and data processing industries.
There are however some other kinds of challenges built into this logic. The
question is whether this commodification logic is merely replicating at a new
level a logic whose dysfunctionality has been challenged and demonstrated at
a more material level by many authors. It is not changing the game but merely
changing the terrain on which the game has been played -- notably to the disadvantage
of eastern and indigenous modes of thought. This is especially evident in the
prevalence of what might be called 'Project Logic', namely a focused
'efficient' mode of strategic thinking in support of economic development
that is inherently economical with any wider truth (Knowledge
gardening through music: eliciting patterns of coherence for African management
as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000).
The concern here is not whether knowledge should be "free" -- as frequently
argued by radical denizens of cyberspace. This perspective is merely another
way of approaching the commodification of knowledge -- specifying some commodities
as free of cost.
The question here is rather whether what is most valuable in knowledge can
in fact be commodified. And if an attempt is made to do so, whether what is
then "possessed" by the individual, or collective, "owner" is capable of retaining
the qualities that renders that knowledge a significant attractor. Clearly commercially
successful attempts can be made to commodify knowledge but the question is the
nature of the distinction between what is possessed and the quality of knowing
associated with it.
Embodiment of knowledge
In the West a stress is typically placed on possession of knowledge -- which
in academic terms can be "professed" by "professors". Examinations are designed
to determine whether students possess knowledge. The logic of possession is
also evident in the major social focus in India, for example, on the civil service
examination as developed from its colonial origins. But this logic also holds
in the case of memorization of sacred texts in religious schools of different
However in the East, beyond such possession, and in many cases irrespective
of it, there is much greater recognition of what might be termed embodiment
of knowledge -- the "dynamics of knowing" rather than "knowledge inventory management".
Through such embodiment the person, or the group, is affected by it to a degree
that they are an expression of it through their behaviour. Recognition of this
may be seen at one extreme in the respect for elders as embodying a lifetime
of experience, or, at another extreme, for people of wisdom (gurus, etc), or
for people with charisma. Some dysfunctional dimensions of this may be seen
in the behaviours -- especially in relation to each other -- of those claiming
to possess wisdom or spiritual authority.
In the West such embodiment is primarily carried by the terms "innate ability",
"natural talent" or "experience". Hitherto this was something valued only in
the apprentices to various trades. "Experience" has now become a prime quality
required for the CEOs of major corporations, often irrespective of possession
of knowledge or qualifications. It is interesting that whilst the process of
buying knowledge (through packaged courses) is common, experience cannot be
purchased -- it has to be engendered real-time. Like "maturity" it is achieved
by other means.
This form of knowledge may possibly be exemplified by "tacit knowledge" --
a term that has recently been a focus of increasing attention in the West. It
is most succinctly described as the kind of knowledge required to ride a bicycle
-- something that does not lend itself to successful explication. It has in
a very real sense to be embodied.
The embodiment of knowledge in the light of the chanted hymns of the Rg
Veda has been explored by Antonio de Nicolas (1978), using the non-Boolean
logic of quantum mechanics (Heelan, 1974). The unique feature of the approach
is that it is grounded in tone and the shifting relationships between tone;
it is through the pattern of musical tones that the significance of the Rg
Veda is to be found. As de Nicolas indicates:
'Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, we have to be
aware that we are dealing with a language where tonal and arithmetical relations
establish the epistemological invariances... Language grounded in music is
grounded thereby on context dependency; any tone can have any possible
relation to other tones, and the shift from one tone to another, which alone
makes melody possible, is a shift in perspective which the singer himself
embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be 'sacrificed' for a new
one to come into being; the song is a radical activity which requires innovation
while maintaining continuity, and the 'world' is the creation
of the singer, who shares its dimensions with the song.' ( p. 57)
This suggested the possibility of using the musical skills of African cultures
to carry, and give coherence to, new styles of policy-making as has been explored
in a separate paper (Judge, 2000: https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/music.php).
Knowledge in relationship
Whilst it may be acknowledged that knowledge can be embodied, the term "embodied"
serves primarily to conceal the significance of such embodiment. The person
may indeed be a significant attractor in a social system, but how insight is
associated with this is quite unclear, notably in the case of charisma. However
it is much clearer when it is recognized that such significance is recognized
through relationship, namely through how in practice the person interrelates
concepts, things or people, or encounters others -- notably in dialogue. This
may be seen as a catalytic or ordering function. A higher form of ordering is
Both in East and West, one manifestation of this capacity is acclaimed as leadership.
Much effort is made to focus on the identification and training of leaders.
Leadership training has itself become a commodity -- although little is said
of how the followers of leaders trained in this way rate the knowledge embodied
in their leader. It is perhaps useful to make a radical distinction between
such an ersatz leader and a natural or charismatic leader -- as experienced
in practice by the followers. But perhaps it is more appropriate to recognize
the truth in the often-cited phrase that "people deserve the leaders that they
get" -- with the knowledge they hold, or of which they are an expression.
In the West there is increasing value attributed to "human relations skills".
A wide variety of consultants promote these skills. They may be sought -- as
a commodity -- in weekend workshops. In the East they are typically exemplified
by attitudes to (extended) family relationships, especially in relation to elders.
In the West emphasis is placed on the skills in interpersonal relationships,
notably in marketing or between sexual partners. In all these cases overt behaviour
is understood to reflect a form of knowledge.
But it is especially the way in which those embodying knowledge relate to the
features of their natural environment that is most striking -- whether it be
(following Feyerabend, 1975) the capacity of a musician, the laboratory skills
of an experimental physicist, a gardener, or a chef. But perhaps less evident
and more fundamental is the way they may relate to the landscape as a whole,
as in the case of many indigenous peoples for whom their knowledge is effectively
embedded in their environment. This is notably the case of the Aborigines of
Australia whose spatio-temporal relationship to their landscape tends to be
quite beyond western comprehension and the concepts of the western legal system.
Knowledge in worldview
The case of the Aborigines draws attention to the fact that relationship knowledge
may be far less instrumental and aggressive. It may be embodied in a worldview
that is not necessarily expressed through any proselytizing endeavour. There
may be valued forms of knowledge that are not presented as commodities, or even
purveyed in any way. A person may know the way from A to B, even in knowledge
space, without any need to present this knowledge to "passers by" as a commodity
for sale. Whether the knowledge is offered in response to a question is another
In this respect the nature of certain knowledge, and whether it lends itself
to commodification, is quite intriguing. What knowledge is there in an attitude?
Is a question knowledge -- or only an answer? Arguably both are forms of information,
but only the second might be considered to be sufficiently organized to be termed
knowledge. However the question implicit in an as yet unsolved mathematical
problem would certainly be considered a form of knowledge by mathematicians.
But there is a challenge here. In an educational mode, a teacher will often
choose not to deliver "knowledge" as a package to be absorbed -- or consumed
as a commodity. Education may be considered more appropriate through a question.
This is especially true of some spiritual teachers -- as exemplified by the
use of the koan in Zen.What does this imply about the nature of knowledge that
can only be elicited through reflection on a question -- or the humour of Sufi
tales? Would the questions fundamental to society 500 years hence, or 500 light
years distant, be valued as knowledge today?
Conversely, what can be said about the nature of the knowledge that is sought
through asking a question of someone who purportedly knows? This is the dilemma
of spiritual tourism through which western tourists pay to meet people of wisdom
(often of the East or in indigenous cultures) and expect knowledge in response
to their questions -- as part of the package for which they have paid serious
money. But the knowledge may not be communicable in the language of the question.
Invasive questioning behaviour may be inimical to comprehension -- and what
is communicated as part of the deal may be packaged in a way that has little
to do with how it is experienced as living knowledge.
This suggests several lines of exploration:
- are there forms of knowledge inherent in non-western cultures (and potentially
valuable to them) that do not lend themselves to communication through western
- are there forms of knowledge capable of sustaining social development that
are relatively incomprehensible to western-style science -- and might they
have a vital, unexplored role in sustaining global development?
- are the responses to queries framed in western terms (such as to web search
engines) to be considered information or knowledge, and if the former, what
alternative forms of response might be envisaged of relevance to queries of
- is the question-answer polarity the only way of framing the progressive
evolution of knowing, or are there other ways -- whether extant or that might
- is every evolution of comprehension to be described in terms of a quantitative
"increase" in knowledge that is thereby "grasped" and "acquired"?
B. Social implications of knowledge organization
A number of observers have pointed to the way in which current investment
in the development of cyberspace makes use of the same mindset as the development
of two-dimensional physical space. Most obvious is the focus on the "information
highway" and the parallels between the development of multinational telecom
operations and that of the "seven sisters" of the oil industry (From
Information Highways to Songlines of the Noosphere: global configuration of
hypertext pathways as a prerequisite for meaningful collective transformation, 1996).
Despite the hype, it is not clear that cyberspace is being developed or organized
with any new insights. This is most obvious in the replication of real estate
thinking in sale of cyberspace "locations" and "sites" -- notably based on
the criteria for advertising. Information is organized through nested menus
which are little different to the organization in bookshops or restaurants
"menu" derives). Computer hardware is promoted in the same way as automobiles,
and sold by the same kind of people -- who now use a very similar patter; computer
magazines are indistinguishable stylistically from automobile magazines.
On a larger scale the mentality associated with urban planning, with its emphasis
on grid systems, is seen to be replicated in the design of "geocities". It is
really only in the more challenging video games that other forms of dynamic
or multi-dimensional organization have started to become evident.
It could therefore be argued that global knowledge initiatives are presently
designed to replicate and reinforce the very pattern of knowledge organization
that proved inadequate to the challenges of enhancing development insight in
the pre-cyberspace era. With increasing spatial constraints on development of
the automobile, these initiatives are effectively designed to upgrade the existing
pattern of dependency under a banner of "globalization". And just as the problematic
consequences of the automobile era were unrecognizable at the end of the horse-drawn
era, it is probable that the problematic consequences of this approach to cyberspace
knowledge organization are equally elusive.
Social architecture and knowledge architecture
It is easy to argue that culture is exemplified in the design of buildings.
Asia is especially rich in buildings of far greater design complexity than those
typical of the West. To the extent that religious buildings (temples, cathedrals,
mosques) are designed to reflect the organization of a world view as a system
of knowledge, designs favoured in the West may be fruitfully compared with those
of the East. The West has increasingly gone the route of functionality and relative
simplicity (whatever the complexities of the electrical, air conditioning and
plumbing systems). Religious buildings are increasingly difficulty to distinguish
from office buildings. Knowledge organization is equally simplistic -- web menus
being no more complex in structure than the directory of tenants in an office
It has been argued that the 'temples' of the future will be those
created in cyberspace based on knowledge complexes. Society is then likely to
have a period of temple construction similar to the cathedral construction of
the Middle Ages. The essential feature of such structures will be they dynamics
into which they entrain people, namely how they are travelled and what knowledge
engagement they evoke.
Asian cultures have the advantage of a rich array of cultural symbols that
are still widely used as referents. Reconciling the dynamics amongst Hindu deities,
for example, calls for a mindset that is capable of working with a far greater
degree of variety than is tolerable in western knowledge systems. Arguably it
facilitates abilities to deal with the array of fundamental particles -- or
with a rich ecosystem -- in ways that are alien to western thinking. Basically
it might be argued that Asian cultures provide a richer training in variety
handling -- as is the case with non-urbanized indigenous cultures. Whereas articulation
and understanding of the complexity of social relationships is relatively limited
in the West (and possibly in process of further dangerous oversimplification),
that embodied in indigenous kinship systems, for example, is of a significantly
Whilst the consequences of this may become slowly apparent in science, they
will become much more rapidly apparent in the organization of knowledge on the
web. This may already be seen in the difference in complexity of websites of
western religions compared to those of eastern religions. It will be intriguing
to see the different emphasis in eastern search engine algorithms and the related
efforts at knowledge visualization.
Knowledge organization and its social parallels
It is intriguing that the simplest agricultural metaphor is at the base of
the modern approach to knowledge -- namely the "field". Knowledge workers are
each assumed to work in a field -- people are asked to identity themselves by
their "field". Knowledge is organized into fields. A person may work in several
fields, although this may be considered somewhat suspect. The field may be considered
entirely their own, in the case of a specialist on some out of the way topic.
It may however be a very broad field in which whole teams of people work. Knowledge
workers in a particular field may well be organized into a 'profession'
(often to be declared on visa applications).
- In this light the parallel between the development from subsistence level
agriculture to agribusiness may be usefully explored. The question is whether
there are unsuspected carry overs from working in a field, as practiced in
agriculture, to that of knowledge working. Clearly there are similarities
- the isolated knowledge worker at the origins of a new field of science versus
the farmer with his own self-sustaining plot, as compared with
- a large laboratory team of an industrial enterprise versus agribusiness
exploitation of an array of fields.
The metaphor is useful because it helps clarify some of the elusive challenges
of future knowledge work in the light of the more obvious challenges to farming
-- especially in the contrast between East and West:
(a) Fragmentation: In both farming and knowledge work, there
is a major challenge of fragmentation. In the West, farms below a certain size
are considered uneconomical. Intensive farming in the East is typically faced
with the challenge of subdivision of plots amongst inheritors, leading again
to nonviability. In both cases this may be termed unsustainability. Development
of knowledge has also been characterized by rapid fragmentation of every field.
Within any field there is increasing competition amongst knowledge workers,
notably for recognition and funding, and there is a real question as to whether
work in the increasingly smaller fields is sustainable -- in terms of relevance
to any wider context. Within any field, workers quarrel over smaller and smaller
territory. Disciples of aging pioneers form competing schools of thought subject
to further schisms.
(b) Monoculture: In both farming and knowledge work, "monoculture"
is a way of ensuring sustainability according to economic criteria -- concentrating
effort on "cash crops". This is however extremely problematic in both cases.
The radical consequences in the case of farming are well-recognized: destruction
of biodiversity, degradation of soil, dependence on fertilizers, disassociation
of the workforce from the land. The consequences in the case of knowledge work
are similar but less well recognized: groupthink, infertility/uncreativity of
knowledge workers, dubious science is response to sponsor constraints, dependence
on stimulants, disassociation from the knowledge enterprise. These phenomena
are the bane of large research institutions which are increasingly concerned
with sustaining 'yield' in order to remain competitive.
(c) Integration: The previous phenomena pose the challenge
of some form of integration. For agriculture this is expressed in terms of sustaining
yield whilst mitigating against destructive effects on the ecosystem and the
lifestyle of farmers. It requires a focus on an integrated distribution of specialized
produce or the need for integrated farming methods (permaculture, etc). In the
case of knowledge work, this is expressed in terms of the various flavours of
interdisciplinarity and the challenge of integrating the perspectives of different
disciplines in response to social issues. At one extreme this takes the form
of "unity of science" and "Theories of Everything", or less ambitiously in 'knowledge
organization', more recently defined in terms of 'knowledge management'.
The parallel between agriculture and knowledge work is valuable because it
shows that the dramatic challenges of agriculture may be implicit in the challenges
to the future of knowledge work. However it also points to the possibility that
new insights into knowledge work, possibly deriving from the East, may suggest
alternative approaches to agriculture and the development of sustainable communities.
C. Fundamental metaphors of knowledge work
The field metaphor may be explored further because of the insight it offers
into prevalent understandings of the psycho-social relationship to work.
(a) Property and possession: Few would deny the degree of possessiveness
associated with the fields in which people work. For a farmer, the field may
be the land of his ancestors, or at least in the family for generations, or
carefully worked for decades. For the specialist, this may be closely guarded
territory forbidden to trespassers -- an area in which he is seeking to make
a name for himself. He or she may have received the "mantle" from the previous
leader in that field and consider it a right to pass it on to a person of choice.
Much of the deniable history of science concerns the drama surrounding defence
of such territory. In recent decades knowledge work has been increasingly protected
by intellectual copyright and non-disclosure agreements. In both cases the relationship
of the person to the field is a matter of identity. The person's identity may
be intimately sustained by the territory in subtle ways that are currently explored
in the literature on "sense
It is a wonder that the special relationship of indigenous peoples to their
land (eg in Australia) is considered so unusual.
(b) Dispossession and resettlement: Little needs to be said
concerning the drama of dispossession of farmers and the consequences of their
resettlement on ill-chosen land. Communism may be seen as a problematic experiment
in redefining the relation of the farmer to the land, shifting the focus of
personal identity from the land itself to the collectivity working that land.
In the case of knowledge work, analogous processes are seen in the practices
to which workers are driven to ensure funding and jobs. They are called upon
to switch from areas of interest to areas for which their skills are needed
and for which funds are available. Their work may be "repossessed" by superiors
or by the institutions for which they work. They may be required to "retrain"
themselves in response to new opportunities in a turbulent job market and may
be encouraged (possibly by some with hidden agendas) to believe that doing so
will always be vital to their economic viability in the future. These processes
are a major challenge to job satisfaction and to any sense of personal identity,
self-esteem and psychological security.(c) From field to journey: The consequence of the previous
process has been the development of a variety of forms of migratory worker.
Landless agricultural workers seek work where they can find it, possibly following
a regular seasonal pattern. This is increasingly seen in the case of knowledge
workers. But for those still closely identified with a particular field, people
not associated with that field, or with any particular field, remain a real
challenge. For this reason this process is less evident in cross-disciplinary
movement within the academic environment and much more evident in the dynamics
associated with consultants. They feel free to move between many fields. Their
skills are carried with them and no longer associated with a particular set
of fields. Clearly their job satisfaction, personal identity, self-esteem and
psychological security are quite differently sustained. Cultural exemplars include
the western troubadour of the Middle Ages and the Japanese ronin.
(d) From possession to embodiment: Journeying with skills, identity
may only be associated with possession of those skills and their transferability.
In practice this is sustained by ensuring equivalence between countries of
the academic or technical qualifications possessed -- although there is no
corresponding equivalence between fields. Identifying with the knowledge possessed
is to be contrasted with embodiment of the knowledge independent of qualifications
or the fields in which it is used. This is partly recognized through the term
"independent scholar" or 'jack of all trades'. Such people embody
their skills in an integrative manner relatively unconstrained by their original
disciplinary training or any professional association. Cultural exemplars
include the Hindu sanyasin.
D. Sets and their comprehension
In the shift from information to knowledge the key is in the organization or
ordering of the information. The emphasis in the West is placed on "lists" as
most typically seen in menus on websites. These have the advantage of avoiding
the challenges of introducing coherence, other than through hierarchical nesting.
Much more interesting is the transition to coherent sets of elements of knowledge
-- as exemplified by the periodic table of chemical elements. Here there are
a variety of relationships along the various dimensions of the table -- there
is a notion of complementarity. The set structure provides a scaffolding that
protects elements that might otherwise be neglected or marginalized because
they are little known or otherwise considered insignificant. Coherent sets might
be considered as conserving conceptual diversity.
A list structure challenges through raising the question whether additional
elements of knowledge should simply be added -- but there is little sense of
"completeness", only of whether the list is "too long" (and therefore requires
some form of nesting). The challenge of set structure emphasizes to a greater
extent where additional items should be added within that structure --
consistent with patterns of relationship across the set. It is the reinforcement
of these patterns that increases the integrative significance of the resultant
knowledge complex. It is through these structures that knowledge is "packaged"
and subject to "packing". This is increasingly recognized through major investments
in unusual forms of information visualization (see http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/atlas.html)
Science, western style, has tended to be less interested in the emergence of
larger knowledge complexes -- other than within specific domains, such
as chemistry (the periodic table) or fundamental physics (relationships between
fundamental particles). The exception might be the pursuit of a Theory of Everything
-- which however treats as derivative everything not directly related to the
fundamentals of matter and energy. In particular science has been unable to
provide meaningful bridges between the disciplines to ensure the emergence of
any inherently interdisciplinary insight. In part this is due to the special
challenges to comprehension of integrating what are effectively incommensurables.
In particular western scientific methodology has provided little knowledge integration
between the hard and soft sciences, or between the more objectively oriented
sciences and the more subjectively oriented sciences.
The pursuit of knowledge in eastern and indigenous cultures has tended to emphasize
the coherence that encompasses incommensurables between domains -- even
if it is a challenge to comprehension and characterized by uncertainties.
Western-style science has tended to sideline the significance of its cultural
heritage for the organization of knowledge. In fact western-style science might
even see its emergence as a victory over inappropriate forms of coherence characteristic
of the pre-scientific period -- notably in the form of Greek and Roman pantheons,
or the angelic hierarchies of the monotheistic religions that succeeded them,
or the 'correspondences' of the late Renaissance. The kind of "unity"
that has now resulted may prove to be narrower and more simplistic than is appropriate
for the future.
The issue for the future may well be how coherence is meaningfully carried
in a turbulent information society in which everyone suffers from information
overload -- and in which much relevant insight is underused. This is already
especially problematic for young people in determining what to learn and where
to find frameworks of meaning capable of sustaining individual or collective
Vehicles for identity
The development of fundamental metaphors of knowledge work results in the elaboration
of sets that are a challenge to comprehension. Underlying these are the following
fundamentals in terms of which a locus of identity may be variously understood.
'Identity' may take a variety of forms: natural phenomena (and whether
and how they are bounded in a systems or legal sense); emotions (being in love,
etc); abstract concepts generated by the sciences (a plant phylum, entropy,
etc); or values (peace, justice, etc) -- but especially the sense of embodied
identity, or invariance, in terms of which a person experiences him- or herself.
Identity is therefore closely related to the adequacy of any explanation and
to how knowledge is then held.
The following approaches to identity may be considered:
(a) Stasis: Whether in relation to the physical or social environment,
individuals may seek explanations in terms of state or static structure -- however
this is reflected in preferred conceptual frameworks, whether global ethical
frameworks or theoretical structures. Preferred explanations are then articulated
in terms of states and snapshots, minimizing any dynamics between states. Governance
may focus on reports on the "State of the World" or the "State of the Environment".
The case of stasis is clear and encourages simple clear-cut responses
to issues of identity and boundaries. It is the classic western understanding
of the separate, bounded individual relating to a community. Hence the emphasis
on property and possession and a form of siege mentality that has its transcendent
form in the search for Theories of Everything and ultimate absolute explanations.
For the 'state', any 'citizen' is defined for administrative,
legal and other purposes as a bounded, labelled entity -- which may however
raise issues of false identity, multiple identities, or of non-persons without
any legitimate identity.
(b) Dynamic: In contrast to a state focus, emphasis may be placed
on change, movement and trends, whether in physical terms (travelling), social
terms (career development, increasing status), cultural terms (learning),
or developmental terms (individuation, spiritual quests). This may also be
stressed with regard to development of knowledge (advance of science, etc).
This is partly captured by the general notion of reports on "progress". The
dynamic dimension is typified by work on emergent systems and chaos theory;
statistically the focus is on trend analysis.
This is best understood in terms of identity with a career -- "do
not assess me for what I am but for where I am going and how I am getting
there". Convicted criminals, after release, may see themselves as innocent
again -- having expunged any obligation to society for past crimes. The locus
is not with a particular state but the dynamic of movement between states
-- boundaries are either a matter of indifference or are systematically transcended.
Groups and organizations may reject any assessment of them at a particular
time, arguing that they have "moved on". Conceptually there is then an identification
with the learning process, with the developing history of science and with
the phenomena in that process. It raises the question of what is the carrier
of identity in process logic? Identity can then be in some way associated
with a 'carrier wave' (possibly a 'standing wave') in
contrast with the particular static focus.
(c) Pattern of connectedness: A third emphasis is on patterns of relationship,
whether amongst individuals in a community or peer group, as "networking",
or in patterns of trade relationships. This perception is fundamental to understanding
of ecosystems. It is less well-recognized with respect to knowledge development,
other than in the confused recognition of the importance of interdisciplinarity,
inter-sectoral, inter-paradigmatic and inter-faith insights. But, as well
stated by Gregory Bateson: "Destroying the pattern that connects detroys all
This might be exemplified by the eastern understanding of the individual
in community and defined by a pattern of community or kinship relationships,
in contrast with the isolated bounded western individual. Conceptually the
focus is on networks, exemplified by telecommunications networks. The understanding
is carried confusedly by insights relating to globalization or the complexity
of an ecosystem.
This 3-fold division cannot presume to be the only such division. a variety
of other approaches are reviewed elsewhere (Systems
of Categories Distinguishing Cultural Biases, 1993),
notably that of Magoroh Maruyama. As noted earlier, the possibility of using
music as a vehicle for identity in African cultures has also been explored
through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management as an alternative
to Project Logic, 2000)
F. Metaphors as conceptual scaffolding
The question is what metaphors inherent in eastern cultures will provide scaffolding
for what forms of science that may be surprising, unrecognizable, or even incomprehensible
in the West?
For example, in the sections above, two sets were presented:
- 3-fold: stasis; dynamic; and pattern of connectedness
- 4-fold: property and possession; dispossession and resettlement;
from field to journey; from possession to embodiment
Does the pattern of relationship between the trinity of gods of Hindu culture,
for example, provide more clues to ways of understanding the relationships
between stasis, dynamism and connectedness? Or if not, is this pattern understood
differently in ways that give greater weight and credibility to such relationships
than emerge from equivalent cultural archetypes in western cultures? For science,
is the way in which threeness is typically understood in the West (see the
triadic paradigm of Paris Arnopoulos, 1993) constraining the development of
insight into the structure of the atom (electron, proton, neutron), for example?
Are there other qualities to threeness that are better understood and more
credible to eastern cultures? The same question may be asked of sets with larger
numbers of elements (see Patterns of Conceptual Integration, 1984).
The question for science grounded in eastern cultures is in what way their
pantheons, or pluralistic frameworks for complex dynamics, will enable the emergence
of patterns of insight in which diversity is held more appropriately than within
frameworks in which western style unity is emphasized.
Irrespective of the degree of credence attached to pantheons, or to other "non-scientific"
patterns of organizing understanding, it is useful to recognize that as metaphors
they provide a form of scaffolding (or matrix) for the organization of insight.
In so doing, they may enable the emergence of "scientific" understanding. They
have been widely recognized as vital to scientific creativity. The comprehensible
is used to provide scaffolding for the incomprehensible or the not-yet-known.
Especially intriguing is that by shifting the focus of insight from individual
set members to the set as a whole, the issue of whether identity is carried
by a static, a dynamic, or a relationship of connectedness (using that example)
may now be addressed in terms of all three together. Namely, when is any particular
perception appropriate and how are the transformations between one perception
and another achieved within a coherent framework? The focus is now on the complementarity
between the explanatory emphasis associated with each member of the set.
In this light the adaptation by the developer of the Bell helicopter, Arthur
Young (Geometry of Meaning, 1978) of the 12 measure formulae of physics
into a 3x4-fold set -- that he also matched with the traditional zodiacal signs
common to East and West -- is an example of the manipulation of sets in ways
that merit further exploration (see adaptation of these results to sustainable
strategies and dialogue Characteristics
of phases in 12-phase learning-action cycle, 1998).
"Global" as an example of a cognitive challenge
Western-style sciences have been relatively limited in their ability to deal
with any challenges of integration between incommensurables. Ironically this
becomes most obvious in the current enthusiasm for things 'global'
and the process of 'globalization' -- especially in terms of its dramatic
implications for the livelihoods of those in developing countries. As many have
remarked, 'global' becomes a disguise for homogeneity, notably as
built into 'systems'..
The fashionable use of "global" focuses simplistically on the geographical
dimension: the planet as a whole. This emphasis is the culmination of a century
of successful effort towards international understanding -- of "thinking globally
and acting locally", of "global villages", of "global action plans", of "global
ethics", of "global consciousness" and of "globalization".
What has been largely lost in this process is the other sense of global, namely
some kind of comprehensible, integrative whole -- of which a geographically
bounded planet is but one particular instance. "Global" is too readily taken
to mean planet-wide and no more -- a recognition by certain regions that there
are others on the planet. "Interdisciplinarity", "transdisciplinarity" and "integrative"
have themselves evolved into holistic buzz words because of the essential failure
of the initiatives they represented in responding to the fragmentation of knowledge.
"Holistic" could even be considered as content-free -- providing the cozy, existentially
unchallenging, explanations typical of New Age books. "Global understanding"
in this integrative sense has become almost a myth in pursuit of which some
heroes occasionally continue to quest (cf. 'unity of science', etc).
Science western-style ignores how higher orders of unity are to be comprehended.
Perhaps it is only in mathematics that the clearest, and most general, distinction
is maintained between "global" and "local". Unfortunately that discipline is
incapable of taking into account the essential psychological distinction between
the two that is associated with broader (rather than narrower) processes of
comprehension, communication and learning. It is possibly only in Q-analysis
that powerful clarification is given to the relationship between degrees of
comprehension (Ron Atkin, 1977, 1981: see review).
For those of psychoanalytical orientation, there is also the suspicion that
the current fascination with "global" competitiveness could usefully be seen
as a projection onto a world scale of the competition of the tiny sperm of the
male to reach the much larger female egg to ensure reproduction. The struggle
for "globalization" may thus be partially driven by the oldest of instincts.
From this perspective what awareness do those competing to imprint their particular
vision on the world have of their global goal? This perspective would completely
undermine democratic processes in relation to global governance. It would be
reassuring to discover that sperm "cooperate" like migrating geese or like teams
of racing cyclists. It is ironic that the preoccupation with globalization should
occur in a period of falling male fertility and concern at the "feminization
of nature" (through widespread pollution by oestrogen substitutes).
In terms of the concerns of this paper, eastern insights may offer a more fruitful
understanding of "global" as a potentially accessible cognitive whole rather
than as an essentially inaccessible geographical one (although the latter may
serve as a metaphor for the former). Just as one can travel around the globe
without being able to see it as a whole from any one perspective, so one may
perhaps be able to "circumnavigate" a cognitive whole without being able to
"grasp" it. It is even possible that the understanding which tends to "grasp"
cannot be fruitfully termed "global" -- or that what can be so grasped is not
fruitfully understood as a whole of larger significance, or of requisite variety
(cf. Ashby's Law).
In terms of the challenges of global governance, the ability of a particular
discipline to grasp the challenges of society cannot in this sense be understood
as "global". It is necessarily sub-global, namely local in some way which honours
the particular, "local" insights of that discipline. A single finger cannot
pick up and hold a large ball, just as the ball cannot be completely viewed
from a single perspective. In this metaphor, there is also a distinction between
"clutching" and the many skills required to play with the ball through a variety
of grips and actions. What does this then imply for global 'development'
Neal Stephenson (1999) has provided an intriguing review of the contrast between
the Windows and Linux platforms in terms of the empowerment of their respective
users. He describes this contrast metaphorically in terms of H G Wells' classic
distinction between the beautiful Eloi and the ugly, techy Molochs (The Time
Traveller, 1898) . In effect the Microsoft strategy creates (for today's
Eloi) a form of conceptual cocoon of 'global' information facilities
whose limitations and failures are only reluctantly acknowledged to the persistent
(the Molochs) who have to maintain such systems -- a pattern similar to the
glossy conceptual backing for 'globalization' that obscures the cruder
realities it engenders for many. Those developing countries opting for use of
Linux are avoiding entrapment and disempowerment by such conceptual hype.
This distinction challenges the interpretation to be given to 'global'
in the World Bank's Global Knowledge Partnership, in Peter Russell's Global
Brain (1983), or even in Susantha Goonatilake's Toward a Global Science
(1999) -- that inspired this paper. However, in expressing concern about one
hegemonic interpretation of 'global' science as 'totalizing',
Goonatilake (1999, p. 8), seeks to reframe it: 'science as a totalizing
project is totalizing only to the extent that it is an organized skeptical attempt
to gather valid knowledge.' Missing however are richer insights into how
the body of human knowledge can be articulated and comprehended as an integrated
whole -- perhaps inspired by mathematics and the contributions of non-western
Crop-rotation as a metaphor of more fruitful relationships between set elements
The tendency to focus on single explanations or vehicles of identity may be
explored in terms of its policy implications. Linear thinking encourages adoption
of policies without thought to the nature of the policies which will have to
follow them to remedy the havoc they cause, however incidentally. Given the
many feedback cycles essential to the coherence of the natural environment,
a non-linear approach would suggest the exploration of "policy cycles" -- within
which any "linear" policies are perceived as phases.
In searching for appropriate metaphors to illustrate the need for cycles of
policies (or conceptual approaches) there is a certain appropriateness to using
a process which has traditionally been considered basic to sustaining the productivity
of the land, namely crop rotation. The rotation of agricultural crops planted
in fields is an interesting "earthy" practice to explore in the light of the
mind-set which it has required of farmers for several thousand years. It is
especially interesting given the central role of the 'field' metaphor
in knowledge work and the challenge of sustainability of yield.
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 period, 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 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") encouraged by each and to replenish the resources
of society ("nutrients", "soil structure") which each policy so characteristically
There is no awareness, for example, of the number of distinct policies or modes
of organization through which it is useful to rotate -- or how many distinct
perspectives are required to sustain an understanding of a complex whole. Nor
is it known how many such distinct cycles are necessary for an optimally integrated
world society in which the temporary failure of one paradigm or mode of organization,
due to adverse circumstances (disaster) is compensated by the success of others.
It is also interesting that during a period of increasing complaints regarding
cultural homogenization ("monoculture"), voters are either confronted with single-party
systems or are frustrated by the lack of real choice between the alternatives
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.
Are there integrative insights that require more than two contrasting perspectives
to encompass their higher degree of ordering? Might there be a third or fourth
complement to the 'wave' and 'particle' insights into light?
Re-reading as a method
The radical suggestion is that all conceptual patterns, from any discipline,
can be profitably "re-read" as metaphors -- through which insights can be gained
of relevance to other domains of knowledge. The body of knowledge, generated
by the disciplines over the years, may therefore be systematically (re-)explored
as a resource for implicit insights. In a sense the geological layers of knowledge
laid down over the centuries, including "fossilized knowledge", may be mined.
Much will be irrelevant, but there are seams of insight of great value. The
challenge is to separate the two.
In many disciplines, work undertaken decades (or even years) in the past is
no longer of any interest. This implies that work done today is in most cases
a fairly rapidly wasting asset for society as a whole -- other than for historical
purposes. The difficulty with this perspective is that it neglects the challenge
of educating each generation anew, and the problem of cultures and sectors of
society without the resources to deliver the latest insights in a form in which
they can be absorbed. As with many technologies, obsolete presentations continue
to be used and to have their place. This can be seen in the distribution of
out-dated textbooks in developing countries and in their use of "out-dated"
traditional technologies. Some impoverished countries are obliged to operate
on a basis of continuing repair of equipment, rather than its progressive replacement.
The reality of society is that different generations of information and technology
coexist, often quite fruitfully. Old technologies may be rediscovered as more
appropriate than the new. Portions of new technologies may be recycled in strangely
innovative ways -- as may be seen in the use of old automobile tires in certain
cultures. There is therefore merit in considering conceptual patterns from
the past as a non-wasting asset that may prove more appropriate under certain
circumstances than the most recent. Whilst more sophisticated, the latter may
be both less accessible and less robust in practice. (This argument is developed
shifting through transposition of key: a metaphoric illustration of unexplored
possibilities for the future, 1999)
H. Polarities, territoriality and globality: insights from the I Ching
Western-style sciences have significantly failed to provide coherent cognitive
support in response to the dramatic crises of 'global' society. Despite
the World Bank's Global Knowledge Partnership (http://www.globalknowledge.org/),
the nature and quality of the knowledge proposed is not commensurate with the
challenges (see Coherent Policy-making Beyond the Information
). Available responses to these emerging crises are handicapped by what could
be usefully understood as cognitive issues associated in various ways with:
polarization, patterns of incommensurables, uncertainty, comprehensiveness
(coherence or integration), dynamism (vs statics), decision-making, transformation
(or development), and comprehension (and the learning process).
These issues tend, in whole or in part, to be designed out of any western efforts
at 'global' modelling that are therefore only applicable under certain
conditions. Curiously, however, they are designed into the structure of the
Chinese traditional I Ching, or Book of Changes which purports
to take account of the specificity of all conditions -- but at a price.
In the case of polarization, the challenges are only too evident in the simplistic
approaches to the following 'gaps': North-South, East-West, Wealth-Poverty,
Informed-Ignorant, Youth-Age, etc. How such differences become significant --
leading to schismatic speciation of schools of thought -- is not considered.
But the real challenges to future knowledge, is how such differences are to
Perhaps the most fundamental insight of commentaries on the 64-phase I
Ching pattern is that conditions change. As the Book of Changes, it
is the relationship between the conditions which is as important as the conditions
themselves. It is in this sense that the approach of Myers-Briggs, for example,
is characteristic of a static rather than a dynamic perspective. It is indeed
the case that people can be trapped in a particular condition. It is however
vital to recognize how they can transform from one condition to another.
The binary line coding of the I Ching, encoding polarization, is used
to represent the possibility of change. Thus an unbroken line can change into
a broken line, and a broken line can change into an unbroken line. In doing
so the line-structure is transformed to represent one of the other conditions
in the pattern as a whole:
All the line-structures in any of the specific patterns are connected by transformational
pathways in this way -- to form a truly global pattern. All the lines in a
line-structure do not necessarily change at the same time. Traditionally the
tendency of any one of them to change is indicative of a qualifying condition
that lends itself to a particular interpretation. Examples of such qualification
can be seen from an I Ching experiment (Transformation
Metaphors derived experimentally from the Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching)
for sustainable dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community
and lifestyle, 1997).
See discussion of implications (Recommendations
for Change and Intervention in the World System, 1971).
The challenge is to explore (and comprehend) both the static conditions and
their tendency to transform into other conditions in a given pattern. Clearly
a condition may be static over an extended period -- constituting either a valuable
stable platform (a "type"), or a trap. Transformations between conditions may
take place very rapidly. Traditionally, for example, a breathing cycle can be
understood as passing through a series of conditions. Practitioners of a breathing
discipline may understand this in terms of a 2-phase pattern (inspiration /
expiration) or more complex patterns reminiscent of crop rotation. The same
could be said of combustion engine or similar cycles. The dynamic pattern of
conditions is then clearly vital to a larger process than is obvious from the
perspective of any single condition. In this sense there may be personality
"types" that are characterized more by a dynamic pattern of transformation between
a number of conditions than by any single condition. Psychotherapists, for example,
are concerned with pathological cycles of behaviour.
A key concern is how to design a viable transformation pattern or cycle. What
conditions should form part of the pattern? How many of them are required for
the cycle to be sustainable? Such challenges could be seen in terms of designing
a dance -- how many steps are required? Or in composing a piece of music --
how many chords are needed to make an attractive melody? In each case an acceptable
sequence needs to be determined, plus a sense of a viable whole. The pattern
of transformations could be seen as a form of 'resonance hybrid' that
sustains a structure that is necessarily unstable in any of its particular manifestations.
It is interesting to reflect on the subtler orderings of knowledge that could
only be sustained by transformations between more limited insights -- as illustrated
by the wave vs particle theory (and recent interest in their 'entanglement').
Although in the case of the I Ching it is a 64-phase structure rather
than a 2-phase structure that is sustaining the higher ordering.
In changing from one condition to another, the possibilities are to impose
constraint on a free condition (eg broken to unbroken line) or to free up a
constrained condition (eg unbroken to broken line). But the framework is less
obvious than this implies. The constraint on a condition may be due to the context
of a line (unbroken lines above and below a broken line). The constraint may
be due to vacillation or subservience (broken line) in relation to commitment
and direction (unbroken line).
In the light of Leibniz's early interest in the I Ching and binary coding
(resulting in the computer), it is interesting to reflect on the possibility
that the structure of the I Ching might be used as the basis for the
design of a new kind of computer. Clearly there are intriguing possibilities
for a transformation of existing binary computer logic into I Ching logic
-- some have been explored by Katya McCall Walter in 1995 (http://www.arkspark.org/3books/3toc/3toclec.html)
There have been interesting studies of the maths implied by this logic, notably
by Tony Smith (http://www.innerx.net/personal/tsmith/ichgene6.html).
The question is what such a hypothetical computer might compute and to what
end? In contrast with western-style 'excluded middle' logic, it might
for example be used to encompass the four-valued logic that Kinhide Mushakoji
(1988) considers basic to interparadigmatic dialogue, or the Jain seven-valued
logic as described by Susantha Goonatilake (1998) in speculating on the possibility
of the transformation of Boolean algebra (basic to computers) into others based
on 4- or 7-fold logics:
Aristoletian logic is two-fold. X is either A or not A. In contrast, Jains
developed a seven-valued logic called the Sapta-bhangi: a thing may
be (Syat asti); a thing may not be (Syat nasti); a thing may
or may not be (Syat asti nasti); a thing may be inexpressible or indescribable
(Syat avaktavyah); maybe it is and is inexpressible (Syat nasti
ca avaktavyah); maybe it is, is not, and is inexpressible (Syat asti
ca nasti ca avaktavyah). (p. 224 and 225)
For example, a method for generating tenacious tests by using a timed seven-valued
calculus with consideration of delay of each gate in a circuit under test was
presented in the Proceedings of the Fourth Asian Test Symposium (ATS '95) (Generation
of Tenacious Tests for Small Gate Delay Faults in Combinational Circuits
by Hiroshi Takahashi, Takashi Watanabe, and Yuzo Takamatsu).
The use of I Ching logic in encoding the genetic code and the vitamins
basic to human life has been the subject of several commentaries (Martin Schonberger,
1992). However following the potential relationship to the Jain scheme, there
is also the more complex pattern of the Buddhist text Brahmajala Sutta
('The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views'; translated in
1978 by Bhikku Bodhi in The All-Embracing Net of Views) [see discussion
and the resultant table of 62 possible viewpoints in Patterning:
Interrelating incompatible viewpoints].
There is certainly a fundamental need for an ordering device for the variety
of perspectives that can emerge in relation to any challenge or opportunity.
Might such a device be used for predicting knowledge speciation in any domain?
Goonatilake refers to Jain efforts 'to calculate the permutations and combinations
of all possible explanations -- epistemology on a grand scale' and continues:
'In artifical intelligence, a similar all-encompassing exercise is the
attempt to generate solutions by evolutionary means' (1999, p. 227)
The I Ching has been adapted to encode the complexities of dialogue,
vision, conferencing, policy, network, community and lifestyle in parallel
Metaphors derived experimentally from the Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching)
for sustainable dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community
and lifestyle, 1997).
It has also been used to explore ways of reframing polarization and complexifying
the knowledge space within which territorial issues (Jerusalem, indigenous
lands, etc) are discussed elsewhere (And When the Bombing
Stops? Territorial conflict as a challenge to mathematicians, 2000).
I. Subjectivity vs Objectivity
Western-style science has developed through an emphasis on objectivity. The
limitations of this assumption for science have been widely reported in the
case of the role of the observer in fundamental physics. But these exceptions
to objectivity have essentially been marginalized to ensure that the role of
the observer is minimized wherever possible. An interesting discussion of the
relationship is provided by Max Deutscher (Subjecting and Objecting,
It is possible that eastern-style science may offer subtler ways of handling
this relationship; 'science' may be reframed more inclusively as 'psience'
to encompass challenges of differential comprehension and cultural variation.
Ironically they have the same pronunciation. Hermann Hesse's Nobel Prize winning
Glass Bead Game usefully contrasts, as a complementarity of playing styles,
what are effectively the western and eastern approaches to the game of globalizing
'In the formal Game the player sought to compose out of the objective
content of every game, out of the mathematical, linguistic, musical, and other
elements, as dense, coherent, and formally perfect a unity and harmony as
possible. In the psychological Game, on the other hand, the object was to
create unity and harmony, cosmic roundedness and perfection, not so much in
the choice, arrangement, interweaving, association, and contrast of the content
as in the meditation which followed every stage of the Game....The Game encompasses
the player after the completion of meditation as the surface of a sphere encompasses
its center, and leaves him with the feeling that he has extracted from the
universe of accident and confusion a totally symmetric and harmonious cosmos,
and absorbed it into himself.' (p. 197, 1943, 1969) [NB: there are numerous
web-based initiatives, of highly variable quality, to emulate the Game]
The received wisdom amongst western researchers is that reasoning operates
according to rational, logical, formal rules. However Philip Johnson-Laird (1998)
has demonstrated that although people can reason in this way, they do not usually
do so. Instead they take various short cuts in the light of mental models that
they have constructed and that make people vulnerable to falsity or counterfactual
alternatives -- that people generate with great regularity, according to his
collaborator Ruth Byrne. Although these alternatives may be at the root of creativity,
she argues that what we seem to find more difficult is creating counterfactual
alternatives that are unlike the ones that everyone else creates.
The I Ching (like the Kama Sutra) provides an interesting coding
system to structure inquiry into the range of possible relationships between
knower and known, between the worker and the field. Its 64 hexagrams may in
fact be used to represent 64 possible variants of the subjectivity/objectivity
relationship -- from extremes of objectivity (yang) to extremes of subjectivity
(yin) -- and the nature of the transformations between them.
Such an inquiry could be extremely valuable to reframe the extremes of polarization
associated with attitudes to property and especially territory, whether in
physical or knowledge space. This would be highly relevant to recognition of
the attitude of indigenous peoples to their land and to the embedding of their
cultural knowledge in the environment -- and relating the variants of this
understanding to the objective extremes of western-style property rights. An
attempt at such an exploration has been made elsewhere (see Discovering
Richer Patterns of Comprehension to Reframe Polarization, 1998).
It is somewhat ironic that it is precisely such cognitive reframing that may
be vital to more fruitful approaches to the vexatious issues of intellectual
copyright -- currently constrained by the simplest of polarizations, based
on excluded-middle logic, and embodied in law.
Integration of subjective dimensions may help to reframe many 'external'
social issues in terms of their psychological roots -- consistent with the
emphases of many eastern and indigenous belief systems. Understanding of
seemingly external collective issues, such as disease, unemployment, insecurity,
malnutrition and injustice, may be explored in the light of individual
coherence, boredom, vulnerability, malnourishment and prejudice respectively
and of Buddhist notions of dependent co-arising (see).
This may be especially fruitful in identifying alternatives for remedial action
-- if the focus is on personal moment-by-moment significance, rather than safely
projected onto western-style psychological studies without any temporal focus
or personal self-reference. A major initiative in this respect is the work
of R G H Siu on Panetics (1994), following his taoistic investigation
of science (1974). There is also the intriguing possibility that the associated
patterns of 'values' and 'virtues' (so extensively articulated
in eastern belief systems) may in fact encode attitudinal control 'mechanisms'
(and traps) for the effective navigation of knowledge spaces (Techniques
of navigation: virtues and vices, 1998)
There is a relationship between comprehensive integrative insight and 'global'
(as discussed above), much explored within eastern cultures, that might be contrasted
with western-style scientific exploration. It might be summarized by Maria M.
Colavito (The New Theogony, 1992) in her discussion of two models of creation
in culture as the Models of the One and of the Zero. The One functions by division,
the Zero by addition:
"The model of creation by the One is the aural model. This model produces
mythology, geometry, alchemy, polytheism, music, mysticism and enlightenment
through revelation. The model of creation by Zero is the literary model, It
is responsible for theology, algebra, biology, monotheism, visual art, asceticism
and knowledge through the appropriation of data. Humanity needs both models.
Our modern culture has focused on the skills necessary to produce only the
latter model. A simple journey through history reveals that this struggle
between these two world views is not new." (p. 19)
Commenting on this, Antonio de Nicolas (1989), sees this as the problem: the
One does not know by its own skills. It is only in the model of the Zero that
knowledge comes forth with its language of substances. Now the question arises
what is the function of the One? Creation, of course. And how does this take
place? From the Rg Veda, through the Gita, the "skills" of the
One as model are the skills to open the heart and consequently the frontal lobes,
to be able to make decisions for oneself and the culture in every situation.
On the other hand, the skills of the Zero model, develop the neocortex only
and close the entrance to the frontal lobes: wise decisions are difficult and
the best solution is the "monoculture" or as it is called the uniform global
The contrast might be caricatured by that between the knowledge associated
with a coherent 'sense
of place' and that associated with the need to travel the globe in order to be a global
traveller -- adding zeros to frequent flyer mileage! It is the former insight
which offers the collective self-discipline for the containment of overpopulation;
it is the latter which guarantees further population explosion and unsustainable
growth. In the former case the search for identity is always elsewhere, requiring
progress in terms of the arrow metaphor. In the latter case identity is defined
by interlocking (great) cycles defining asphere -- whose circumferences may
each be composed of a sequence of many individual arrows. This raises the question
of the relevance of eastern insights into 'non-action' with respect
to challenges to modern society (see discussion).
How is the coherence of a sense of place to be understood?
There is the intriguing possibility that the complexity and subtlety of explanation
of objective phenomena may be severely constrained by the capacity of human
cognitive capacity. The development of science may, to a significant degree,
be about the development of that capacity through use of externalities as challenges
that require better explanations. But as artefacts of the human mind this tool
kit of meaningful patterns is necessarily limited and every effort is made to
use one of these tools on new phenomena before making any effort to develop
new ones. To some degree, therefore, understanding of cosmology or fundamental
physics may be as much about what forms human knowledge can credibly take --
hence the value of metaphor and 're-reading'. The satisfactory quality
of any explanation may be due to some kind of 'fit' with human cognitive
organization. In an important sense the properties attributed to astrophysical
or nuclear phenomena may derive their structure from innate cognitive abilities
concerning acceptable patterns through which things can be meaningfully organized.
Science in this sense is as much about eliciting a subjective sense of organization
as discovering organization of objective phenomena. The intimacy of these relationships
may prove more amenable to eastern-style science.
J. Relationship and Community
The 20th century has in many ways been characterized by an explosion in the
nature and variety of relationships, whether through knowledge organization,
systems and their analysis, communications networks, distribution networks,
ecological food webs, or networking of every shade. 'Relationships'
have become a prime preoccupation of interpersonal and community dynamics. This
explosion has been the focus of a number of western-style sciences which have
offered insights into aspects of the phenomenon. Unfortunately relationship
failure has also been a prime characteristic of the past century and science
has proved relatively ill-equipped to suggest alternatives to many of the challenges
that have emerged. These may be associated with:
- inadequacy of models of possible integration, whether denoted by 'unity',
- inadequacy of models of relationships between faiths, aspiring to some form
of unity through inter-faith dialogue (and bedevilled by some 40 simulateanous
religious conflicts around the world at the end of the 20th century)
- inadequacy of models of relationship between minorities and majorities,
and the territories on which they have conflicting claims
- inadequacy of models of the variety of interpersonal relationships (marked
by family crises, divorce and other breakdowns)
- inadequacy of models of sustainable (alternative) communities
There is an intriguing relationship between the scientific enterprise as the
pursuit of knowledge, and the masculine approach to sexual relationships. As
noted by Goonatilake (1999, p. 20), feminist research has indicated, that much
of western-style science and images of knowledge are heavily influenced by
thinking supported by male sexual metaphors (Eveyln Keller, 1985). This concern
suggests the value of speculating on the degree to which science may be considered
a form of 'sexual harassment of reality' (see Beyond
Harassment of Reality and Grasping Future Possibilities learnings from sexual
harassment as a metaphor, 1996).
It would then not be surprising that such integrative models fail to emerge
from science, if the research emphasis is effectively on a pattern of promiscuity
reminiscent of one-night-stands -- the publish or perish syndrome that dominates
From this perspective, is reality a kind of "other" through which a scientist
can, at least potentially, "reproduce" himself by some subtle form of cognitive
intercourse? In which case are there also distorted understandings and approaches
to such intercourse? Macho efforts are made to "grasp" reality and the future
(Linda Alcoff et al, 1993). This is considered an important goal of education.
Individuals, groups and society, "grope" their way into the future. Is there
anything to be learnt by wondering how reality may feel about such grasping
and groping? What kind of future emerges from processes of grasping and groping?
Many engage in "stripping" reality of its various disguises in order to uncover
what lies beneath -- this is the essence of scientific 'discovery'.
As the key objective of the scientific method -- truth is thus reality laid
bare -- through aggressive operations of the mind.
This mindset aims at acquisition and possession of knowledge -- reminiscent
of Christian biblical references to a man "having knowledge of" woman. In poetic
and vulgar jargon, there are references to such intercourse as 'plowing
a field' -- again recalling the 'field' metaphor governing knowledge
work. Many scientists would undoubtedly rate any creative discovery as 'better
than sex'. It is not therefore strange to witness the subsequent concern
with the 'dissemination' of results -- for which there are many zoological
Is it possible that the dysfunctionality of western-style science, in the face
of the challenges to society, derives in part from the ways in which it parallels
the dysfunctionality of male-female relations that have been a worldwide focus
in recent decades? If this is the case, then the subtler male-female relationships
articulated within the dynamics of various eastern pantheons may suggest other
ways of 'knowing' reality -- less invasive and more harmonious. The
erotic architecture of Hindu temple design exemplifies the variety of ways of
knowing that are designed out of western equivalents. Is it possible that the
positions of the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana ("Kama Sutra" is Sanskrit for
"Aphorisms of Love"), and the associated trantric disciplines, are vehicles
to encode the full set of possible cognitive relationships between knower and
known? The philosopher Paul Feyerabend (1975) would certainly subscribe, with
humour, to the recognition of 'sex workers' as a category of 'knowledge
The science of the future may necessitate a subtler courtship of reality --
of Gaia -- than the increasingly functional approaches characteristic of western-style
science with its mechanistic emphasis reminiscent of sexual plumbing arrangements.
Reality may not react favourably to rape or to the more abusive mindsets governing
male-female relationships in West and East. The present may be seen as an era
of development in which it was natural to be 'economical with the truth',
whereas the challenges of relationships in the future may require an emphasis
on being 'ecological with the truth' -- as implied by the increasing
use of the term 'ecology of knowledge'.
It is in this sense that it is important to recognize the questionable attitude
underlying any project to 'mine' civilizational knowledge, as proposed
in the project to 're-read' the cognitive products of civilizations
(Metaphors as Transdisciplinary
Vehicles of the Future, 1991)
and embodied in the title of Susantha's Goonatilake's excellent work on Toward
a Global Science: mining civilizational knowledge (1999). It is especially
questionable when the attitude echoes that of the rape of the natural environment,
notably through 'strip mining', for which this era will be severely
condemned by the future.
The missing emphasis may prove vital to developing understanding of new relationship
possibilities and enhancing ability to engage in them fruitfully -- whether
interpersonally, in community, or amongst disciplines or belief systems. In
a society in which many have to encounter a variety of 'aliens' (whether
due to generational, cultural, or other gaps), the nature of communication
with any future genuinely extraterrestrial aliens by 'scientists' might
usefully be structured in other than in the purely western style -- as presented
so often in fictional scenarios (see Communicating
with Aliens: the Psychological Dimension of Dialogue, 2000).
Diana James, an anthropologist with the Australian Aborigines comments (in
a private communication) that the virtual worlds that might be designed by eastern
or indigenous knowledge workers could explore the 'alien within' rather
than the 'alien without'. Maybe the aliens many seek to communicate
with inhabit inner space worlds of alternative cognitive metaphors. What 'spaces'
are we seeking, and will we simply colonize what we discover or will we see
the spaces between as more important than the known recognised cognitive objects
or 'facts' ? Will the spaces redefine the picture? Perhaps even more
intriguing is the possibility, that through certain kinds of knowledge, some
have long been able to shift into an inner form of orbit -- inhabiting such
inner space -- and avoiding the conventional path to mortality. The 'Immortels'
of the Académie Française may reflect aspects of this belief --
as do the hopes of many knowledge workers for 'immortality'. Maybe
whole civilizations can migrate in this way to preserve their culture -- surviving
'hidden' into the future (perhaps like the ancestors of the Australian
aboriginal Dreamtime) as do 'ancient' portions of the DNA carried
by recently emergent species. Perhaps we then become their vehicles, permitting
them to continue to navigate the world through our eyes?
K. Archetypal knowledge objects basic to computers of the future
The major software breakthrough in recent years has been the object-oriented
programming method in which the contents and processes of all software applications
are defined as logical 'objects'. There is now an intimate relationship
between what can be represented as such objects and what amounts to an emerging
understanding of what constitutes knowledge.
A very significant application of the object-oriented method is in the newer
videogames that are the focus of so much attention and investment. As has been
truly said there is now a strong drift from conventional methods of education
to what amounts to 'edutainment'. Whilst many aspects of this process
may be regretted from a purist perspective on the forms of knowledge that are
the purview of scholars, the question is to what extent knowledge of the future
will be effectively carried by new vehicles of this kind. There is a curious
irony in the recent emergence of the concern with object-orieted programming
and with metaphor. For software developers 'metaphor' provides a key
to reframing application development -- significant new applications tend to
be explicitly based on new metaphors. But, as indicated in the discussion of
're-reading', metaphor is effectively about using objects to hold
In classical times, it may be assumed that knowledge was deliberately embedded
in archetypal tales and legends (such as the set of Jataka tales) --
especially in oral cultures or where writing / reading skills were rare. In
this way pantheons and their internal dynamics carried knowledge. Increasingly
major sections of the population have their psychic space at least partially
ordered in terms of the archetypal figures of soap operas or videogames. They
are effectively choosing to have knowledge and coherence of significance to
them carried by such figures. As in the case of the Japanese Manga, these
may have semi-godlike attributes and behaviours -- beyond the bounds of physics.
The origins of the Finnish success in information technology can be found,
according to Newsweek (May 1999), in the Kalevala, the national
epic of Finland. The article focused on Sampo, a virtual machine accumulating
wisdom and wealth hundreds of years before Bill Gates. In Jyrki Pöysä's study
Virtual Kalevala - global or national?, the Kalevala, is seen
in the context of globalizing information technology. Reinforcing this perception,
the Finnish Presidency of the European Commission, was introduced by a speech
on the New Dimensions of Learning in the Information Society (July 1999) --
referring first to the influential role of the Kalevala. In a similar
vein, Wired (September 1999) comments on the exceptional anti-authoritarian
sentiment that is the core of Nokia's success as deriving from Antti Rokka,
the hero of Väinö Linna's The Unknown Soldier. The hero of the Finnish
information society is a person with a marked aversion towards all hierarchies.
Asian cultures might do well to explore the significance of their own epics,
such as the Mahabarata, for knowledge management.
These developments may be anathema to conventional science, but it is proving
to be a civilizational choice that is partly a rejection of the ways in which
knowledge is communicated by western-style science. But the key issue is whether
this new approach to the representation of what people find meaningful can be
used as a vehicle for new kinds of knowledge -- perhaps better adapted to the
opportunities and stresses of a complex society. If such videogames are chosen
for recreational purposes -- to relieve stress -- perhaps they could be used
to carry insights that prevent it and empower exploration of alternatives.
It is in this respect that there is a case for considering how software of
the future might be developed to carry knowledge which would currently appear
unusual to western-style science. It is interesting that videogame software
is already being adapted to portray archetypal figures and their relationships
-- notably in role-playing variants where 'avatars' accumulate attributes
that govern the dynamics of these relationships (Bruce Damer, 1998: http://www.digitalspace.com/avatars).
The avatars may be designed or chosen by the user from extensive compilations
of legendary figures. Other such games, such as the Mario series, have
'hard-wired' entities -- that the past would perceive like geniis
in a bottle.
It is not therefore farfetched to envisage new forms of software in which
knowledge-complexes ('objects') effectively 'takeover' or
condition the operation of the interaction rather than simply being portrayed.
The thousands of virtual worlds currently under development in cyberspace (see Active
well become arenas in which alternative forms of knowledge operate in a more
meaningful manner than in the virtual world effectively provided by western-style
science. As 'worlds', populated by avatars in dynamic interaction,
they may become preferred cognitive habitats to what is otherwise on offer
-- prefiguring the orbital colonies of which space enthusiasts dream. The challenge
of classical western-style science may be to find ways of navigating to such
worlds -- and trading knowledge with their denizens. The opportunity for eastern-style
science is to design virtual worlds in which alternative cognitive metaphors
prevail -- with new geometries opening up new spaces for new fields and new
ways of knowing. These are, as Goonatilake puts it: 'higher-order models
of our world than science usually indulges in through mathematics' (1999,
The explosion of virtual reality possibilities, combined with richer insights
into identity, polarization, territoriality and possession, and subject-object
relationships, may lead to breakthroughs in the management of territorial claims
whether around the globe or in knowledge space, as explored elsewhere (Discovering
Richer Patterns of Comprehension to Reframe Polarization, 1998).
In discussing the cognitive significance of virtual realties, Goonatilake (1999,
p. 216-219) also refers to the variety of schools of thought and their apprehension
of reality (p. 207, et seq) -- but without however suggesting that their relationship
and speciation processes might well be given coherence through such virtual
As a thought experiment it is therefore interesting to consider what a computer
would be like if its operations were governed, for example, by principles of
the Japanese art of ikebana -- itself a vehicle for knowledge of a certain
kind. How could it be designed to exemplify that knowledge and what new kinds
of knowledge and coherence might such a system then offer? Software cultivating
'artifical life' (http://alife.santafe.edu/)
already indicates feasibility -- but missing is its use as a cognitive vehicle.
The same question might be asked of other art forms through which complex patterns
of insight are developed, held and communicated.
In contrast to the algebraic logic of western style science, Goonatilake points
to Ter Ellington-Wough's (1974) review of Indian and Tibetan traditions using
a geometrical logical system:
'The Western algebraic system uses sequential techniques of quantification
and negation; on the other hand, the Indo-Tibetan geometric system 'demonstrates
configurational relationships of similarity (symmetry) and congruence' (1974;
p. 26). Both systems use equivalence, but in the algebraic it is quantitative,
while in the geometric it is qualitative. While contemporary Western logic
uses constructs of algebraic symbols in algebraic equations, the Indo-Tibetan
system presents formulations in mandalas, pictorial symbols within geometric
The geometric logic of the mandala is mathemtical and symbolic, its symbols
pictorial. The mandala is also multivalued, not single-valued. More than one
set of symbolic equivalences can be shown in a diagram and, later, can be
interpreted as needed at different levels. Abstract simplicity is abandoned;
symbols (plants or animals, human figures, and cultural objects) are chosen
because of their 'richness and complexity'. Combining them creates symbolic
composites. If worked out, a grammar of mandalas, Ellington-Wough notes, would
give linguistic meanings to the geometric conversions used in drawing a manadala,
including 'similarity, conguruence, concentricity, bisection, quartering,
subdivision, inclusion, radiation or projection, tragency, parallelism and
perpendicularity '(1974; p. 39). A new vocabulary of logic would then emerge.'
(1999, p. 227)
Steps towards use of geometric logic in computer applications have been made
notably by Steven Vickers (1994) and Jeremy Gunawardena (1991). The application
of cybernetic thinking to team geometry has been explored by Stafford Beer (1994)
using principles of tensegrity (Judge, 1978).
It may prove to have been a mistake to reject archetypal figures as out-dated
mystification -- if they can serve as vehicles to carry insights and patterns
of coherence in areas where western-style science is failing the needs of society.
The issue is how such figures, as knowledge objects, can be designed to carry
knowledge of a higher order -- especially to sectors of society that are inherently
at a disadvantage when knowledge is primarily carried by text, as at present.
One possibility is to 'massage' visualized information complexes
onto memorable archetypal figures using morphing techniqes (ensuring that specific
symbolic details provide hot links to other information or images). Steps towards
this have been taken in the online databases (on world problems, strategies,
international organizations, etc) of the Union
of International Associations (gallery).
These include a very extensive range of insights into human development as
derived from eastern cultures (see Human
on the assumption that these may offer ways of reframing understanding of issues
L. Succinctness, grokability and overload
Perhaps the most severe condemnation of modern knowledge production is the
degree to which the proliferation of its products parallels that of the population
explosion and the challenges to which that gives rise -- including the denial
that there is any problem. The phenomena of information overload and information
underuse are widely recognized.
Despite the quest for a Theory of Everything, it is increasingly clear that
the higher orderings of significance cannot be effectively rendered compact
enough to ensure comprehension in a manner that can be related to the challenges
of society or to more meaningful knowledge production. Just as developing countries
are accused of uncontrolled population explosion, the prolixity of western science
may prove to be its own downfall. Or again, as expressed by Goonatilake (1999):
'These quantitative changes [in growth of science] will require qualitative
shifts in the nature of science.' (p.4)
It is curious that whilst the latin alphabet facilitates current computer operations,
it inhibits access to knowledge by cultures using other scripts -- and especially
ideograms, as in Chinese. And yet the compactness of ideograms allows much more
information to be succinctly conveyed -- as is seen in their extensive use on
mobile phones and pagers in China and Japan. With the challenges of interpretation/translation
costs, it may be that there will be a rapid shift to ideogrammatic presentation
It is to this challenge to which eastern-style science may respond because
of the greater accessibility of complex integrative symbols that are widely
used as referents. Again it is the possibility of articulating their dynamics
in new information tools and computers that is a fascinating prospect.
M. Containers for comprehensible meaning in the future
If religion, and now science, are societal undertakings located on some long-term
knowledge development pathway, what kind of knowing will emerge in the future
on that pathway, and to what will it be applied? Despite temporary aberrations,
it might be argued that this pathway is characterized by progressive articulation
of greater coherence and integration -- in which it is the nature of such 'integration'
that is itself progressively reframed. The reframing must itself now integrate
the recognition of loss of certainty, resulting from the work of Kurt Gödel
on the possibilities of completeness in mathematics -- namely that for numerous
reasons each perspective advanced fails to satisfy those holding other perspectives.
Implicit throughout the discussion above is the nature of future containers
for higher orders of meaning that pose a challenge to comprehension. Religion
has explicitly used metaphor to offer access to such levels of meaning -- and
typically Asian, and notably Persian, cultures have freely used sexual metaphors
to this end. It is clear that knowledge complexes like the I Ching are
designed to serve as containers of this kind. The generative emergence of overtones
through the techniques of Tibetan 'one voice chord' or Tantric overtone
chanting (provide a metaphor of how improbable insights can emerge from a pattern
of lower frequency intonation that thus serves as a container -- reminiscent
of the role of resonance hybrids in chemistry ( see).
But it is equally true that technologies like crop rotation, or the challenges
of plasma containment in a magnetic bottle, offer powerful metaphors for exploration
of the design challenges of such containers. Eastern-style sciences, as well
as indigenous cultures, may have much to offer in this process.
Following the example of the Right Livelihood Award -- as the alternative Nobel
Prize -- perhaps there is a case for the eastern world to establish an annual
equivalent to the Nobel Prize to celebrate achievement in eastern-style science
and alternative knowledge management. This could be extended to include indigenous
cultures. Care would need to be taken to avoid simplistic romanticization of
the other -- so often a characteristic of early sensitivity to the merits of
the opposite pole of any polarity. East and West can only offer complementary
styles of knowing that together hold a higher quality of knowing.
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