Review of Frameworks for the
Representation of Alternative Conceptual Orderings
as Determined by Cultural and Linguistic Contexts
- / -
Project on Information Overload and Information Underuse (IOIU)
of the Global Learning Division of the
United Nations University (Area 6: Coding and the socio-cultural context of
Clarification of scope
Symptoms of the problem
Cultural determination of information processing
Skewing between languages and cross-language equivalence
Determination of information processing within languages and cultures
Modelling inter-linguistic discontinuity
1: Interpretations of cross-cultural information processing implications of Hofstede study
2: Difficulties in the transfer of information between languages
This paper explores the influences of implicit or unconscious filters on the
question of information overload and information underuse. There appears to
be relatively little research into this question and therefore the paper attempts
to identify a number of
'points of entry' through which the dimensions of the question can
There has of course been a great deal of research into the semantic and psychological
aspects of communication breakdown but in recent years this has tended to emphasizes
communication as a 'people process rather than as a language process' (1,
Basically the issue appears to be one of the consequences of differences in methods
of expression, conception or learning. This is typified by differences in cultures
and languages. But both culture and language need to be understood in their broadest
sense in order to recognize the dimensions of the issue. In particular it is
not sufficient, as is usually the case, to dismiss 'culture' as being of negligible influence on
information processing or as constituting a barrier which can be easily overcome. Nor is
it sufficient to consider the information implications of differences of
'language' as easily surmountable by a variety of translation procedures or the
adoption of a common language. It is precisely the prevalence of such
'superficial' attitudes, together with the remarkable sophistication
with which data can now be manipulated by computer, telecommunications and surveillance
technology, which has led to the assumption that any associated difficulties
are purely of a technical nature. The assumption is reinforced by the interesting
results already achieved in work on machine translation. This paper attempts
to demonstrate that the momentum of the technical approach to information, and
the associated investments, have drawn attention away from fundamental problems
which are vital to any effective response to the issues of information overload
and information underuse.
It should be stressed that this paper is not primarily concerned with the implications
of different languages or cultures as social phenomena. Such differences are
viewed here as the more easily recognized manifestations of a more fundamental
problem. But precisely because of their more recognizable characteristics, concern
with such characteristics has tended to obscure the conceptual problems implied
by such differences. It is these conceptual problems which are to be found in
other arenas in which differences are not so clearly demarcated, as in the case
of languages or cultures, and where they are therefore even more easily ignored
Recognition of these issues is rendered especially difficult because any apparent
success in describing them within one conceptual framework or language effectively
obscures the nature, depth or subtlety of the differences. These can only be
begun to be appreciated through the process of switching to some second framework
or language. The difference is appreciated experientially in the contrast. Its
quality is lost to a great extent in explanations of it within one or other framework.
Hence the ease with which the significance of such differences can be denied.
Possibly only much later, or when it is too late, is it appreciated how people,
groups and organizations develop implicit areas of non-communication which contribute
significantly to the problem of information overload and information underuse.
Clarification of scope
As suggested above the issues can only be effectively explored by examining
them within a broader context. This necessitates a broader interpretation of
'concepts'. However, in the light of the theme of this paper, it is
neither possible nor desirable to present definitions.
(a) Language: In this discussion 'language' includes:
- spoken or written languages such as English, Chinese or Sanskrit;
- languages, which select particular words from written languages, defining them as terms
of specialized significance whose use is governed by certain theories or laws; the use of
such languages is a prime characteristic of certain discipline or schools of
- systems of notation through which logical and mathematical insights into patterns of
relationship are clarified and communicated;
- computer languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, ADA, C, PL1, etc; these combine features of
mathematical notation and the specialized use of words noted above;
- identifiable methods or systems of expression which may not necessarily rely on univocal
use of words, but may, as in poetry, playfully explore other patterns of
- systems of communciation using non-verbal means, whether, graphics, music, movement or
the many symbolic devices favoured by the media and public relations campaign to influence
This broader sense may therefore be considered as covering any systems of expression
capable of conveying or filtering patterns of significance. It therefore combines the two
arenas (whose distinction is lost in English but retained in French) of 'langue'
and 'langage'. This broader interpretation is consistent with current
recognition that ordinary language, whether written or spoken, is only one member of a
class of coherent symbolic communication systems (2, p. xii). Nalimov argues that the
broad view of language results from the work of cybernetic linguistics. In addition to
mathematics and biology as 'hard' languages, 'soft' languages also
need to be recognized:
'The study of art can be regarded as the teaching of a language for communication in
the emotional sphere of life. We may speak of the language of abstract painting, of the
language of music, and that of rhythm in poetry, and we can carry on quite serious
investigations in these directions... In any case, the definitions of language which
linguists of the traditional school have been attempting to formulate seem very naive
nowadays'. (2, p. xviii)
(b) Culture: The variety of interpretations of 'culture' and
itsrelationship to 'language' is a theme of continuing and possibly endless
debate. The preparatory report for a Unesco meeting on intercultural studies (Belgrade,
1976) draws attention to culture as: 'A related whole or more or less formalized ways
of thinking, feeling and acting which, learnt and shared by a number of people, serve,
both objectively and symbolically, to make of those people a special, distinct
collectivity' (3, p. 17). Kroeber and Kluckholn conclude a review with the statement
that: 'It is evident that culture has been used in two senses, each usually implicit
in its context and validated there: culture including language, and culture excluding
language. It is also clear that language is the most easily separable part or aspect of
total culture... it is obviously easier to abstract linguistics from the remainder of
culture and define it separately than the reverse' (4, p. 244). Clearly in seeking a
broader interpretation of 'language', language becomes much less distinguishable
from culture to the point that, for the purposes of this paper, they may often be
considered identical. Thus in considering the consequences of differences in culture,
Geert Hofstede states: 'Culture... includes language. Language is the most clearly
recognizable part of culture and the part that has lent itself most readily to systematic
theory-building' (5, p. 27). The more distinct that cultures become the greater the
tendency for this distinction to be embodied in distinct sets of terms or languages.
(c) Information: Information is used in this paper to indicate potential patterns
of significance. This includes raw statistical data, for example, only to the extent that
the data is interpreted as forming patterns of significance. Patterns of significance may
be carried by a wide variety of media or languages and are therefore not limited to
verbalized information or graphic images. Considerable information, often of political
significance, may be conveyed by ritual, ceremony, music, poetry or body language, for
Nalimov reproduces a sample of definitions of the term 'information' and then
states that: 'None of the definitions corresponds to our intuitive understanding of
the meaning of the word. And any attempt at defining ascribes some new features to this
word, features which do not clarify but, on the contrary, make narrow and thus obscure its
sense, and indubitably increase the word's polymorphism' (2, p. 103).
(d) Use: The uses of information tend to be conceived in terms of:
- learning, broadly understood to include becoming informed (for example in French
the news is called 'les informations'). The media is fed with information by
governmental bodies with titles such as Office of Public Information (some of which may
even be 'disinformation').
- action, namely the application of 'know-how' to achieve some policy goal.
The prevalence of these two highly visible uses of information tends to obscure the
question as to whether the uses are primarily concerned with:
- maintenance of the status quo, adapting to changing circumstances ('maintenance
learning'), or whether they are concerned with
- formulating innovative responses to such circumstances ('innovative
This distinction was the principal theme of a Club of Rome report (6) and was explored
in connection with the limitations on the use of international organization information in
an earlier paper, especially in relation to societal learning (7).
Those concerned with information seldom publicly acknowledge two other major uses of
- the accumulation of power through the accumulation of information. Organizing the
transfer and access to information is now, through telecommunications, a major business
and a number of bodies are manoenvering to control and profit from such transactions in a
manner reminiscent of the early activities of the oil corporations.
- the use of information to engender empathy and to entertain. This is a characteristic of
many audio-visual presentations and, under certain political circumstances, may well be
deliberately designed to divert attention from more substantive issues.
This range of uses moves beyond the concept of use associated with the first two items.
Information may indeed be used in a non-innovative manner and may have uses unrelated to
(e) Time: In discussing the uses of information, it is easy to assume that they
should be evident soon after the information is produced. From a societal learning
perspective however, some types of information only acquire their full significance long
after they have been produced. Much of the investment in telecommunications is concerned
with short-term information (e.g. share prices, commodity prices, new research, news,
meteorological data, military status reports). Such information frequently has a very
short 'half-life', possibly measured in hours or days. The media equivalent, as
Alvin Toffler indicated, is the brief presentation of unrelated images leading to what he
terms a 'blip culture' (8). In contrast the information which is eventually
aggregated into the cultural heritage may be much less easily detectable in the
short-term. It calls for a much longer exposure time before its significance becomes
apparent. Whilst such information is valued in all cultures, it is not valued equally in
all cultures (9).
Symptoms of the problem: points of entry
Recognizing the inherent difficulties, noted above, of adequately identifying
and describing the problem within any one conceptual framework, this section
uses the device of exploring a number of 'points of entry' through which the nature of the
problem may be comprehended. Each of these points of entry helps in some way to clarify
the difficulties of the conceptual discontinuity which isolates distinct areas,
conditioning the kinds of information that they are able to generate and receive. It must
be stressed that the apparent ease with which some forms of discontinuity may be discussed
and comprehended often obscures quite profound differences in perspective. As is said of
the USA and the UK 'two cultures separated by the same language'.
(a) Medium as the message
The much-discussed phrase of Marshall McLuhan 'The medium is the message' raises
the question as to the kinds of information that are exchanged using different
media. The important point here is the recognizable preference of different organizations,
groups and individuals for different media. Where some prefer information in
text form, others prefer audio-visual presentation. President Reagan is a commonly
cited example of the latter. Such people tend to avoid use of the wealth of information
available in text form even when presented in condensed form.
The reverse is of course also true. There is a considerable reluctance in some
disciplines to base any scholarly argument on information presented in graphic
form. Such an argument would be assessed as inadequately formulated if it cannot
be expressed verbally. This is a characteristic of the social sciences, especially
political science and international relations. Whilst tables and graphs may be
acceptable, this is seldom the case with audio-visual presentations, especially
in continental European cultures. The up-market French newspaper 'Le Monde', together with 'Le Monde Diplomatique',
pride themselves on the absence of illustrations in their columns. And yet the
information formulated by such disciplines is assumed to be of some relevance
to the politicians and decision-makers described by Harold Lasswell:
'Why do we put so much emphasis on audio-visual means of portraying goal, trend,
condition, projection, and alternative ? Partly because so many valuable participants in
decision-making have dramatizing imaginations... They are not enamoured of numbers or of
analybe abstractions that encourage contextuality by a varied repertory of means, and
where an immediate sense of time, space, and figure is retained'. (10)
Other examples of contrasting forms of presentation which may be usefully cited
- tabloid newspaper, containing information designed to be of special appeal to a mass
readership for whom it may be a principal source of non-local information;
- television, in which a constant flow of information is presented in benumbing variety to
a viewership amongst whom passivity is reinforced;
- rock festival, at which individuals gather to participate, often very actively, in a
media happening in which information is exchanged in a form of considerable importance to
- opera, presenting an orchestration of music and voices, which may be conceptually
demanding, standing in dramatic contrast to the previous example (from the perspective of
- ritual blessing of followers by a religious leader (e.g. a pope or gurn);
- situation room, as used by the military and by policy-making bodies of large
corporations, in which considerable use is made of high technology to identify and present
patterns of information; -data network terminal through which individuals may search
through distant databases;
- plenary assemby in which representatives of governments or interest groups exchange and
present information (possibly designed principally for 'home consumption') in
the process of formulating resolutions for collective action; more importance may be
attached to the process of participating than to the actual content;
- encounter group in which people meet in different ways, exchanging many kinds of
information, often involving body language, touch and expression of deeply felt
Such different media raise the question of how to describe the kinds of information by
which they are characterized. How is it that peopleor organizations oriented toward one
such medium find it extremely difficult to make effective use of information provided
through another ? Political scientists make extensive studies of the role of media as a
vehicle for political ideas but would be reluctant to use non-verbal means as an aid to
their own conceptual explorations. Such information would not be
To the extent that each such medium is a purveyor of messages characteristic of a
particular language or culture, what processes exist for the 'translation' of
messages from one media language to another ? Examples include :
- adapting a book for film presentation;
- putting a poem to music;
- writing lyrics for a piece of music;
- preparing an audio-visual presentation of a project elaborated in document form;
transforming an architectural blueprint into a three-dimensional structure;
- building a mathematical or computer model to simulate interacting conditions recognized
- elaborating a heuristic programme as a basis for an expert system (artificial
intelligence) on the basis of interviews with experts in that field;
- conversion of a business or military strategy into practice;
- arrangement of a ballet based on a piece of music by the process of choregraphy;
- providing a musical background to the visual stimuli of a film;
- adapting a body of scientific research into the form of a visual documentary;
- description of the range of public opinion in statistical form on the basis of market or
- translation of intuitions into works of art.
None of the forms of 'translation' indicated here imply a simple relationship
between the source language and the target language. With the exception of some computer
conversions (numbers to graphs; music to visual effects), the differences between such
forms of information is indicated by the fact that none of these translation processes
have been computerized.
Media may be grouped by the degree to which they call upon the information
processing capacity of the different senses. Such an approach is in sympathy
with various schools of Eastern philosophy, where the senses are usually identified
as: vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell, to which thinking is occasionally
added. It has also been suggested that in certain cultures information processing
associated with one particular sense tends to predominate. Very loosely it
has been claimed that Western cultures are visually oriented in contrast to
aurally oriented African cultures, for example (11).
Even as a metaphor however, the difficulties of communicating information conveyed
in aural terms to a person or group oriented to a visual presentation are immediately
evident. They are dramatized by efforts to explain the visually perceived world
to a blind person relying primarily on touch and sound. The blind person lacks
referents for the visual experience; as in the case of colour.
Whilst the coordination of sense experience is part of development in early childhood,
an individual gradually comes to make greater use of some senses as opposed to
others, depending on environmental circumstances. Thus the sense of smell is
largely atrophied in urban environments.
In societies the relationship between visual and aural information is complex.
Written information may be viewed as suspect in comparison to word-of-mouth reports,
or vice-versa. The translation from one form to another, 'writing it down' or
'presenting it verbally to an audience', can considerably modify the
weight attached to the information, its ability to be received and the possiblities
for its further dissemination.
(c) Forms of 'illiteracy'
Recent studies in European countries and the USA have revealed suprisingly
high levels of illiteracy. In the case of the USA, the English Language Proficiency
Survey, a study by the Census Bureau published in 1986 indicated an illiteracy
rate of 9% for those of English mother tongue and 48% for others. Of those who
failed the test 0.8% had some college education, 6% had finished high school,
18.6% had some high school education, 34.3% had 6-8 years schooling, and 53.3%
had 5 or less years schooling. An earlier and more stringent test of 'functional competency of adults', the Adult Performance
Level Project (University of Texas, 1975), covered skills of communication, computation,
problem solving and personal relations. It found that 20% of American adults were unable
to perform everyday adult tasks whilst a further 34% could perform the tasks but not
proficiently. It is to be expected that the situation in other countries is equally
dramatic. Such tests may be interpreted as giving an indication of inability to use
information in a certain form. Clearly large proportions of any population do not make
more than limited use of information available in text form. This is not to say that they
do not make extensive and effective use of information in other forms in terms of their
needs. It is unfortunate that 'illiteracy' is easily interpreted as
inability to use information when in fact it only reflects inability to use information
of a certain type.
But even amongst those who are found to be 'literate', such tests do
not help to distinguish those who are disinclined to use their ability in order
to make use of information in a particular form. It is not possible to distinguish
the proportions of the literate population that uses text information (a) to
reinforce currently held views, or (b) to retrie factual data, in contrast to
those who make active use of it (c) to explore challenging, innovative or opposing
views. This suggests the need for a more complex indicator than illiteracy rate
to measure inability to make use of information in different forms.
(d) Frames of mind: multiple intelligences
A measure of intelligence may be considered as a measure of theindividuals
capacity to process information. There is a long held theory that there is
a single measurable intelligence scale along which each individual can be assessed
to derive an
'intelligence quotient'. As part of the recent Project on Human Potential of the
Harvard Graduate School of Education, Howard Gardner has reviewed a considerable body of
evidence which questions the validity of this theory (12). He argues that the tests do not
measure what they purport to, and are valid only for a small Western middle-class
minority. This raises the question as to whether the prevailing concept of what
constitutes 'information' is not subject to similar distortion.
Gardner proceeds to demonstrate that there is persuasive evidence for the existence
of several relatively autonomous human intellectual competences which he calls 'human
intelligences' or 'frames of mind'. The exact nature of and breadth of each
intellectual 'frame' has not so far been satisfactorily established,
nor has the precise number of such intelligences been determined. It is however
possible to demonstrate that several such intelligences exist, common to many
cultures, each with its own patterns of development and brain activity, and each
different in kind from the others. Gardner points out that the many previous
efforts to establish independent intelligences have been unconvincing, chiefly
because they rely on only one or, at the most, two lines of evidence.
Gardner presents evidence for the following distinct forms of intelligence :
- linguistic intelligence, including: a sensitivity to the meaning of words and their
subtle shades of difference; a sensitivity to the order among words and the rules
governing such order; a sensitivity to the sounds, rhythms, inflections and meters of
words; and a sensitivity to the different functions of language, namely its potential for
exciting, convincing, stimulating, conveying information, or simply providing pleasure.
Strangely however he makes no mention of competence in languages other than the mother
- musical intelligence, including: sensitivity to pitch (or melody); sensitivity to
rhythm, namely the organization of pitch over time; and sensitivity to timbre or the
characteristic qualities of a tone.
- logico-mathematical intelligence, including: sensitivity to possibilities of ordering
and reordering objects, assessing their quantity; sensitivity to the actions that can be
performed on objects, the relations that obtain among those actions, the statements (or
propositions) that can be made about actual or potential actions, and the relationships
among those statements.
- spatial intelligence, including: capacities to perceive the visual world accurately, to
perform transformations and modifications upon initial perceptions, and to re-create
aspects of visual experience, even in the absence of physical stimuli.
- bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, including: the ability to use one's body in highly
differentiated and skilled ways, for expressive as well as goal-directed purposes; the
capacity to work skillfully with objects, both those involving delicate movements of the
fingers and those involving complex movements of the body. (Gardner points out that the
tendency to denigrate physical skills, in contrast to skills of the mind, is a Western
academic bias not necessarily characteristic of other cultures).
- personal intelligences, including: access to one's own feeling life and the capacity to
affect discriminations among those feelings, to label them, to enmesh them in symbolic
codes, to draw upon them as a means of understanding and guiding behaviour; the ability to
notice and make distinctions among other individuals, especially among their moods,
temperaments, motivations and intentions.
Gardner stresses that different forms of intelligence may be more readily accepted in
different cultures. Whilst at the same time recognizing that although the logico-
mathematical form may predominate in the West (which claims to have originated it), it is
nevertheless present in tribal cultures (such as the Kalahari Bushman) in somewhat
Within this context the notion of intelligence that he advances involves the existence of
one or more information-processing operations or mechanisms which can deal with specific
kinds of input. He suggests that human intelligence might be defined as a neural mechanism
or computational system which is genetically programmed to be activated or
'triggered' by certain kinds of internally or externally presented information.
(12, p. 64). The operations of these mechanisms may be considered autonomous, without the
'modules' being yoked together. He points out that exponents of this modular
view do not react favourably to the notion of a central information-processing mechanism
that decides which module to invoke (12, p.55)
(e) Axes of bias
A well-defined characteristic of academic debate is the tendency for different
schools of thought to emerge in relation to a topic cluster. Debate within
each school of thought develops through unemotional arguments reflecting the
best of the scholarly style. In debate between schools or between disciplines,
however, where there is a lesser degree of commonality of the conceptual frameworks
(or none at all), the arguments formulated within one framework tend to appear
more emotional and as less well-founded or even irrational from another. The
kinds of information supplied from one framework are then suspect or unacceptable
to those operating in an alternative framework thus leading to
'underuse'. This problem has been explored by the philosopher WT Jones (13)
concerned at the tendency for debates around certain topics to remain static and to fail
to develop over long periods of time. In particular he noted the tendency for certain
positions to be maintained (reflecting a particular framework) despite an abundance of
information concerning the validity of some alternative position. To clarify this
situation, he demonstrates that the discontinuities can be described in terms of the
different positions of the participants (or schools of thought) on seven pre-rational axes
of bias. These differences are reflected in aesthetical, theoretical, value, life-style,
policy, and action preferences, as well as in the preferred style of discussion. Any
difference between people in position 'along' an axis gives rise to
discontinuity which it is difficult to handle within a rational frame of reference.
The axes identified by Jones are:
- (a) Order vs disorder, namely the range between a preference for fluidity, muddle,
chaos, etc. and a preference for system, structure, conceptual clarity, etc.
- (b) Static vs dynamic, namely the range between a preference for the changeless,
eternal, etc. and a preference for movement, forexplanation in genetic and process terms,
- (c) Continuity vs discreteness, namely the range between a preference for wholeness,
unity, etc and a preference for discreteness, plurality, diversity, etc.
- (d) Inner vs outer, namely the range between a preference for being able to project
oneself into the objects of one's experience (to experience them as one experiences
oneself), and a preference for a relatively external, objective relation to them.
- (e) Sharp focus vs soft focus, namely the range between a preference for clear, direct
experience and a preference for threshold experiences which are felt to be saturated with
more meaning than is immediately present.
- (f) This world vs other world, namely the range between a preference for belief in the
spatio-temporal world as self-explanatory and a preference for belief that it is not
self-explanatory (but can only be comprehended in the light of other factors and frames of
- (g) Spontaneity vs process, namely the range between a preference for chance, freedom,
accident, etc and a preference for explanations subject laws and definable
(f) Epistemological mindscape
In a series of articles, Magoroh Maruyama has studied patterns of cognition,
perception, conceptualization, design, planning and decision processes (14, 15,
16, 17). His central concern is the role of epistemological types, especially
as they affect cross-disciplinary, cross-professional, cross-paradigm and cross-cultural
communications. In contrasting his own work with that of previous research in
this area, he distinguishes two traditional approaches: the psychological and
psychoanalytical bases of individual differences in patterns of cognition, and
the cultural and social differences as determined by sociologists and anthropologists.
Maruyama notes the various terms that have been used to describe such patterns,
none of which has proved satisfactory: models, logics, paradigms, epistemologies.
To these might be added Kenneth Boulding's 'image' (18). In Maruyama's more recent work he
favours 'mindscapes'. He provides a very valuable summary of these different
exercises in 'paradigmatology' and their relation to social organization.
Although he no longer favours the term, he defined paradigmatology as the 'science of
structures of reasoning' whether between disciplines, professions, cultures or
individuals (16). He notes that the 'problem of communication between different
structures of reasoning had not been raised until recently', since scholars
tended either to advocate their own approach or describe that of others. Contributing
to this neglect is the fact that the choice between logics is based on factors
which are beyond and independent of any logic.
Although he carefully emphasizes that there are many possible mindscapes or paradigms,
Maruyama argues that 'for practical purposes' it is useful to distinguish four
main types (16, p. 6). He stresses that these are not meant to be either mutually
exclusive norexhaustive and warns that any attempt at separating them into non-overlapping
categories 'is itself a victim of a paradigm which assumes that the universe consists
of non- overlapping categories' (16, p. 142). What is intriguing is that
over the years he has continued to struggle with the same attributes, grouping
them first into three types (14), extended to four (15), then to five (16) and
now seemingly stabilized at four again (17).
The four types are:
- (a) H-mindscape (homogenistic, hierarchical, classificational): Parts are subordinated
to the whole, with subcategories neatly grouped into supercategories. The strongest, or
the majority, dominate at the expense of the weak or of any minorities. Belief in
existence of the one truth applicable to all (e.g. whether values, policies, problems,
priorities, etc.). Logic is deductive and axiomatic demanding sequential reasoning.
Cause-effect relations may be deterministic or probabilistic.
- (b) I-mindscape (heterogenistic, individualistic, random): Only individuals are real,
even when aggregated into society. Emphasis on self-sufficiency, independence and
individual values. Design favours the random, the capricious and the unexpected.
Scheduling and planning are to be avoided. Non-random events are improbable. Each question
has its own answer; there are no universal principles.
- (c) S-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive, homeostatic): Society consists of
heterogeneous individuals who interact non-hierarchically to mutual advantage. Mutual
dependency. Differences are desirable and contribute to the harmony of the whole.
Maintenance of the natural equilibrium. Values are interrelated and cannot be
rank-ordered. Avoidance of repetition. Causal loops. Categories not mutually exclusive.
Objectivity is less useful than 'cross-subjectivity' or multiple viewpoints.
Meaning is context dependent.
- (d) G-mindscape (heterogenistic, interactive, morphogenetic): Heterogeneous individuals
interact non-hierarchically for mutual benefit, generating new patterns and harmony.
Nature is continually changing requiring allowance for change. Values interact to generate
new values and meanings. Values of deliberate (anticipatory) incompleteness. Causal loops.
Multiple evolving meanings.
The above descriptions are brief summaries of extensive listings of characteristics in
relation to overall social philosophy, ethics, decision-making, design, social activity,
perception of environment, human values, choice of alternatives, religion, causality,
logic, knowledge, and cosmology (15, 16, 17). Maruyama considers that the influence of
such 'pure' types predominates in certain cultures, although in practice the
types are quite mixed. Thus the H-type predominates in European, Hindu and Islamic
cultures. The I-type develops in certain individuals, such as those of existentialist
philosophy. The S-type is characteristic of Chinese, Hopi, and Balinese cultures. The
G-type predominates in the African Mandenka culture, for example. H, S. and G
characteristics can be distinguished in different streams of Japanese culture.
Maruyama has recently (17) compared his four types with an extensive survey of
epistemological data grouped by O J Harvey into four 'systems' (19).
- System I: (a) High absolutism, closedness of beliefs, highevaluativeness, high positive
dependence on representatives of institutional authority, high identification with social
roles and status position, high conventionality, high ethnocentrism.
- System II: (b) Deep feelings of uncertainty, distrust of authority, rejection of
socially approved guidelines to action accompanied by lack of alternative referents,
psychological vacuum, rebellion against social prescriptions, avoidance of dependency on
God and tradition.
- System III: (c) Manipulation of people through dependency upon them, fairly high skills
in effecting desired outcomes in his world through the techniques of having others do it
for him, some autonomous internal standards especially in social sphere, some positive
ties to the prevailing social norms.
- System IV: (d) High perceived self-worth despite momentary frustrations and deviation
from the normative, highly differentiated and integrated cognitive structure, flexible,
creative and relative in thought and action, internal standards that are independent of
external criteria, in some cases coinciding with social definitions and in other cases
The two authors find that they agree on three types and differ on the nature of the
fourth (which Jungian's would presumably consider as corresponding to a partially
'repressed function' they have in common). It is much to be regretted that such
surveys have not explored the epistemologies in 'developing' countries to a
greater degree, nor the extent to which different epistemologies are co-present in the
same culture, group, individual or life-cycle. Such work would contribute to further
understanding of information based on different epistemologies is underused within other
Cultural determination of information processing
As noted above, the absence of systematic research makes it difficult to clarify
the effects of culture on information processing. A number of practical dimensions
of the problem have been reviewed in a series of studies by Edward T Hall (20,
21, 22, 23) and in a seminal review by Andreas Fuglesang (11). Bearing in mind
the intimate relationship between culture and language, the matter may be explored
by using comparative research on cultures as an indication of the dimension
of the problem. Particularly fruitful in this respect is a study by Geert Hofstede
: Culture's Consequences; international differences in work-related values
(5). This 'explores differences in thinking and social action
that exist between members of 40 different modern nations'.
He argues that people carry 'mental programs' which are developed in
the family and early childhood and reinforced in the schools and organizations
of their respective cultures.
The data used for the empirical part of the research was extracted from an existing
database of the results of surveys within subsidiaries of a large high technology
multinational corporation. The survey was held twice, in 1968 and in 1972, producing
a total of over 116,000 questionnaires. This was supplemented by additional data
from people on management courses unrelated to that corporation. Hofstede argues
that the differences demonstrated in the study 'have profound consequences for the validity of the
transfer of theories and working methods from one country to another' (5,
p. 12). This suggests associated consequences for the use ofinformation generated
in other countries. The findings are interpreted on behalf of policy makers in
national but especially in international and multinational organizations who
are confronted with the problems of collaboration of members of their staff carrying
different culturally influenced mental programs. The question is whether the
implications of this study can be used to offer further insights on the use of
information in different cultures.
Hofstede isolated four main dimensions on which country cultures differ :
- power distance, namely the attitude to human inequality. The index developed grouped
information on perceptions of an organizational superior's style, colleagues' fear to
disagree with the superior, and the type of decision-making that subordinates prefer in a
- uncertainty avoidance, namely the tolerance for uncertainty which determines choices of
technology, rules and rituals to cope with it in organizations. The index developed
grouped information on rule orientation, employment stability and stress.
- individualism, namely the relationship between the individual and the collectivity which
prevails in a given society, especially as reflected in the way people choose to live and
work together. The index distinguises between the importance attached to personal life and
the importance attached to organizational determination of life style and
- masculinity, namely the extent to which the biological differences between the sexes
should or should not have implications for social activities that are transferred by
socialization in families, schools, peer groups and through the media. The index developed
measures the extent to which people endorse goals more popular with men or with women.
Hofstede presents an integration of these four dimensions. The values of the four
indices for the 40 countries are used to form clusters of countries with similar index
profiles. The four dimensions satisfy Kluckhohn's criteria for universal categories of
culture. Hofstede argues that they describe basic problems of humanity with which every
society has to cope, although for each of them there is not just one possible answer, but
a range of possible answers. He recognizes that the set of dimensions is not necessarily
Place Figures 1 and 2 here
Of special interest in terms of this paper is that Hofstede indicates, for each of the
four dimensions, the consequences for :
- political systems
- religious life and philosophical and ideological thinking
In so doing he comes very close to rendering explicit the implications for information
processing. An attempt at rendering these implications explicit is made in Annex 1. This
suggests how Hofstede's four dimensions might be interpreted to throw light on the
information processing differences between cultures.
Hofstede's approach has served as the point of departure for research at the National
Bureau for Professional Training in the Ivory Coast aimed at determining management and
organizational models appropriate to African cultures. Henry Bourgoin, Director of the
Bureau, in a study entitled 'L'Afrique Malade du Management' (24) notes, in
reviewing the forms of management used in African through the colonial period to the
present period of 'occidental management' that:
'... l'entreprise industrielle que nous connaissons actuellement dans le monde
entier s'est surtout developpée dans le contexte culturel de l'Europe du XIXe siècle.
Une telle organisation, malgré des aménagements en cours dans différents pays, reste
fondé sur des 'valeurs' particuliers qu'elle continue à véhiculer :
productivité, rentabilité, etc. Elle s'appuie aussi sur des 'logiques'
particulières: planning, ordonnancement, etc. qui intègrent elles-mêmes des
éléments, qui, s'ils existent évidemment dans toutes ces cultures, n'y sont pas
toujours aussi valorisés' (24, p. 20).
'C'est pourquoi, jusqu' aujourd'hui, les différentes formes de 'culture
managériale' importée ont glissé sur notre comportement, comme une goutte d'huile
sur une feuille de manioc... Il ne put s'agir ni 'd'imiter les Blancs' ni de
'faire comme nos ancêtres'. Une seule voie, celle du juste milieu, est
réaliste, car elle prendra en compte le visage actuel de nos sociétés' (24, p.
In a section entitled 'Des modèles bien à nous', Bourgoin considers that valid
organizational models invented by African societies must be discovered by research into
the traditional political systems adopted by African people.
'On peut en effet les considérer comme le reflet de la pensée du groupe dans les
domaines du pouvoir, du commandement et de son organization interne. Ces structures
politiques sont en outre révélatrices des normes sociales élémentaires qui
sous-entendaient l'organisation du groupe'. (24, p. 21).
Bourgoin stresses the diversity of traditional African political systems from which
organizational models may be derived. These may be divided into two main groups:
- Centralized structures
- - Pyramidal monarchy: Ashanti, Bemba (Zambia), Xhosas (South Africa), Hayas (Tanzania),
Oyos (Nigeria), Balubas (Zaire), Langos (Uganda).
- - Associative monarchy: Mandes and Senoufos (West Africa).
- - Centralized monarchy: Mossis (Upper Volta), Fipas (Tanzania), Zulus and Swazis (South
Africa), Hovas-M rinas (Madagascar), Fons (Bénin).
- Segmented structures
- - Classical segmented system: Krous (Lib ria and Ivory Coast, Ibos (Nigeria), Lobis
(Upper Volta and Ivory Coast), Nuers (Sudan), Kikuyu (Kenya), Tallensis (Ghana), Somalis
- - Universalist segmented systems: Masais, Kipsigis, Merus (all in Kenya).
- - Ritually stratified systems: Ankalis (Uganda), Chillouks (Sudan), T k s (Zaire).
- - Autonomous village and city-state: Balou s and Bakon s (Ivory Coast), Ibibas
Skewing between languages and cross-language equivalences
Language is not a neutral vehicle as is frequently assumed by those concerned by
information questions. The processes of thinking are affected by the categories and forms
available in the language used. This phenomenon is known as the 'Whorfian
hypothesis' which has been formulated as: 'observers are not led by the same
picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrouds are similar or can in some way
be calibrated' (25, p. 65). There are some frequently cited examples of this
phenomenon, such as the 200 Eskimo words for 'snow', languages which have no
separate words for 'blue' and 'green' or others which use verbs in
preference to nouns.
Unfortunately such striking examples have proved of little more than anecdotal
significance in affecting thinking about information. It has apparently not yet been
possible to clarify in any systematic way how category formation and patterns of
categories differ between languages in terms of their effects on information transfer
between languages. There are many studies of isolated cases, many comparative studies of
languages, but the implication for cross-cultural information transfer does not seem to
have been brought out. Indeed Howard Gardner in a recent study of human congnition
dismisses 'rabid whorfians' because research has not established the absence of
lexical equivalents to be of major significance (25). He is however careful to point out
that such research has tendend to focus on tangible phenomena and not on abstracts and
generic concepts. It is in this area that major pitfalls appear to lie as is indicated
One of the major difficulties in clarifying such implications is the natural tendency to
focus on the words used to convey significance in one language as compared to those used
in another. The focus immediately becomes word-oriented rather than concept-oriented. This
tendency is reinforced by one school in the long-standing debate as to whether concepts
can be usefully considered asindependent of the words by which they are communicated. By
locking onto words, for which it is assumed that equivalents in other languages exist or
can be found, the embarrassing conceptual problems indicated by the Whorfian hypothesis
can be conveniently ignored.
Clearly it is not possible in this paper to do more than explore ways of drawing attention
to this problem and its potential implications for information use. As a shortcut, for
purposes of illustration, the assumption has been made here that differences between
languages, beyond those of simple substitution of equivalent words (dog = chien = Hund,
etc), are indicative of significant differences in the actual handling of concepts.
The task of this section is therefore to note such non-trivial differences and infer,
where possible, how these may affect information handling between languages/cultures. For
this exercise it has been found that the organization of material provided by linguistic
studies is not as helpful as those concerned with the non-trivial problems of translation,
especially between unrelated languages, and more so when the emphasis is on the meaning
dimension. The recently-published study used for this purpose is Mildred Larson's
'Meaning-based translation: a guide to cross-language equivalence' (26).
The forward notes:
'In the last thirty years a body of literature on translation theory, strongly
influenced by modern linguistics, has appeared to support and give academic respectability
to the new profession of the non literary translator. Some of these books... have been too
philosophical and abstract to relate at all closely to the translator's mundane problems.
Some have leaned towards contrastive linguistics. Others have tended to tie translation
too closely to linguistic theory. Nida's were the first to deal at all practically with
the cultural as well as the manifold linguistic problems of translation'. Larson's
study is also significant because of the remarkably wide range of languages from which
examples are taken. They include Asian, African, Amerindian, Australasian and European
A summary of relevant points raised in Larson's study is presented in Annex 2. Of special
interest are the following :
- in order to restate information in a second language, it may be necessary to
'unpack' the concepts and then 'repackage' them in a manner
appropriate to the concept scheme of that language.
- Whilst languages tend to have equivalent terms for specific tangible phenomena, it is
increasingly difficult to find equivalents for the generic concepts by which they are
ordered as such concepts increase in abstraction.
- There are many situations in which the concept is unknown within the framework of the
- In addition to the difficulty of finding lexical equivalents is that arising from
radically different approaches to ordering the relationships between concepts in
propositions and propositional clusters.
- languages tend to differ significantly in the manner and rate at which it is appropriate
to introduce new information into an information exchange.
Whilst such issues are of interest in their own right in considering the problems of
information overload and information underuse. Annex 2 is of even greater instance as a
model of the kinds of issues affecting information transfer between sub-cultures or
jargons within the same language. It highlights issues which may seriously affect the
exchange of information between 'neighbouring' disciplines or schools of
thought. In particular the prime concern of a translator to ensure that information is
presented in an appropriate and natural manner, in order that it should not be perceived
as artificial or facilitate misunderstanding, may be related to the difficulty encountered
when information from one school of thought is presented to another. Whilst
'comprehensible', it may easily be viewed as artificial and even experienced as
Of great interest too are the manner in which different languages order sets of concepts
in very different ways. It could well be argued that a fundamentally different worldview
is built into a language which, for example, favours presenting purpose at the beginning
of any grammatical structure in contrast to one in which the purpose statement is
presented following the main clause. What for example is the impact on a worldview of
presenting the principal verb at the end of a propositional cluster, as in German ?
Such issues suggest ways of looking at the ordering of information favoured by different
disciplines, professions and schools of administration. Whilst it is easy to recognize the
extreme distaste with which those with a literary background view the highly ordered
documents produced by international administrations (e.g. numbered paragraphs and
resolutions), mathematicians (e.g. numbered equations), or numbered propositions (e.g. in
some studies of logic or philosophy), Annex 2 suggests other possible differences in
ordering which may also hinder rather than facilitate the use of information.
A series of exploratory studies have been carried out by the Union of International
Associations on the implications of such issues for exchange of information within the
international community concerning international organizations. These culminated in a
symposium on the question (27). Two particular points of emphasis were :
- whether the neutrality of the English use of 'non' (as in nongovernmental) was
preserved on translation into other languages, or whether it acquired pejorative
connotations (as in antigovernmental) (28).
- whether the conceptual distinctions implied by such sets as: cross-, pluri-, multi-,
inter-, and trans- (as in multinational), were maintained or lost in other languages
In both cases the question was to what extent a pattern of distinctions (as opposed to
isolated concepts) could be maintained during translation. A back translation technique
was used employing mainly non-indo-european languages. The results suggested that such
patterns of distinctions were not maintained, even (to some extent) between languages as
close as English and French.
Determination of information processing within languages
(a) Pragmatic dismissal
In the previous sections attention has been focussed on the determination of
modes of information processing in different cultural and language contexts.
Some of the implications may be considered quite striking. They raise questions
about the assumptions under which international information policies are developed.
It is however possible to set such questions aside by adopting the attitude that
the differences are really only significant as inter-cultural curiosities to
be savoured when exploring the artistic heritage of exotic cultures. In the 'real world' after
all, commerce can be successfully conducted by using a highly simplified form
of English in which subtleties of interpretation can be ignored, provided there
is no misunderstanding concerning the goods being exchanged. International trade
has been successfully carried out over the centuries with just such a pragmatic
attitude. The pressure has always been on the exotic cultures to learn to function
at an adequate level in one of the trade languages.
When misunderstandings arise they are handled on a case-by-case basis, possibly
guided by the experience of an 'old hand at the business' of dealing
with culture in question.
This pragmatic approach has been carried over into the exchange of telex messages.
With the rapid development of telecommunications and data networks, dominated
by hardware and software with manuals and operating systems in English, a similar
pragmatism has been necessary. Those who failed to adapt their thinking and methods
of operation to such systems found themselves at a disadvantage. Similarly in
the case of international air traffic control, mastery of an English-based jargon
is obligatory for pilots. For reasons of cost, most international databases use
English language thesauri for search purposes, even those designed within multilingual
organizations such as those of the United Nationssystem. Partial remedies for
any problems are increasingly sought, with some success, in machine-assisted
translation, as in the case of the EEC.
With this experience in overcoming intercultural and interlinguistic problems,
it can easily be argued that the kinds of problems evoked in the preceding sections
can simply be ignored or handled on a case-by-case basis when they create special
difficulties. And clearly this is a viable approach for a significant proportion
of information processing.
The purpose of this paper is to argue that, at least for some forms of information
processing, the above attitude is facile and suspect. It conveniently obscures
issues which may help to clarify the problems of information overload and information
underuse when, and if, they become of concern. The ease with which cultural differences
can be dismissed in the short-term, obscures the longer terms problems which
emerge as a consequence. This lesson has been repeatedly learnt at great cost
by multinational corporations and by international agencies with aid programmes.
But whilst cultural factors are now taken more seriously by such bodies with
respect to their operations, there is little suggestion that similar lessons
remain to be learnt by those concerned with information policies. The main signals
on this question come from the cultures claiming they are subjected to 'cultural imperialism'.
(b) Hidden problem
Whilst the problem between cultures and languages may be handled as indicated
above, the consequences of this attitude are perhaps far more serious within
cultures or languages. It is only too easy to make the assumption that information
processing is not subject to such difficulties within an English language context,
whatever the nuances between
'English' and 'American' culture. Since problems of information
overload and underuse are as dramatic within such cultures as they are between them, it is
definitely worth exploring whether a given language or culture, such as English, is as
homogeneous and 'transparent' to information flows as the above attitude
implies. The problem within cultures is much less easy to clarify. Whereas the
major differences in spoken languages clearly indicate the existence of different
cultures, no such obvious difference exists within cultures. It is therefore
even easier to assume that any such culture is homogeneous or that such differences
are superficial and of little significance for information processing.
There is however sufficient evidence for the existence of sub-cultures within
a culture. As indicated earlier, in the case of academic disciplines and invisible
colleges these are demarcated by differences in terminology and style. These
differences may strongly affect the use of information as Hofstede indicates
'Ethnocentrism is found not only in research design, data collection, and data
analysis; it is also found in the divulging of research results. Articles published in
foreign languages are completely out of most researchers' conceptual worlds; in this
respect multilingual Asians and Europeans are better off than most Americans. In the
English language, professional journals usually publish articles following their own
implicit research paradigm and style of communication. I have noticed that the comments of
American journal reviewers on innocently submitted European manuscripts show a similar
embarrassment as the comments of French management students on translated American text
books'. (5, p. 26).
The above example relates to scholars supposedly working within the same discipline
using the same language. This suggests that for those operating in different
disciplines or professions: (a) their different substantive interests obviously
affect their perception of the significance of information, but also (b) the
implicit values of each sub-culture affect their preparedness to consider information
emanating from some other sub-culture. The interdisciplinary problem is not just
one of differing substantive interests as is commonly assumed. This conceals
differences of style or mode of information processing. It is these that constitute
the 'hidden problem'.
Hofstede, citing Hall, states that even between cultures the problems of cultural
relativism are difficult to bring into focus in international meetings. He sees
the attempt to do so as a risky strategy which polarizes the audience to the
point that some
'reject the notion of a cultural component rigorously, become upset, and feel
threatened by it' (5, p. 254).
'Possibly one of the many reasons why the culture concept has been resisted is
that it throws doubt on many established beliefs. Fundamental beliefs .... are shown to
vary widely from one cultureto the next. It is easier to avoid the idea of the culture
concept than to face up to it'. (30, p. 60). Also: 'The concepts of
culture ... touch upon such intimate matters that they are often brushed aside
at the very point where people begin to comprehend their implications' (30,
Within any language or culture it is even more difficult to focus on these questions
despite familiarity, or even intimate knowledge, of the sub-cultures in question.
In identifying areas in which further research is required Hofstede states: 'The
analysis of differences in national cultures should be complemented with a further
differentiation of regional, ethnic, occupational, and organizational subcultures'
(5, p. 279).
(c) Working hypothesis
Although much work on subcultures does exist as the meat of social science
research, it does not appear to be comparable to Hofstede's multicultural survey.
Most of it is on particular subcultures and would not permit implications for
information processing to be easily drawn.
As a working hypothesis it is therefore useful to assume that the forms of
differentiation of relevance to information processing that can be found between
cultures and languages can also be found within cultures and languages.
This assumption can be used to formulate questions for further research. Taking
Gardner's multiple intelligences as an example, amongst any group of people in
which the logico- mathematical form of intelligence is dominant, do the other
forms of intelligence occur to different extents as sub-dominants, thus contributing
to the variation amongst the sub- culture of mathematicians ?
But this assumption is most useful as a way of drawing upon Hofstede's research
and its implications. Taking one of the clusters grouping the USA and the UK
it is probable that the differentiation between the English speaking sub-cultures
would result in similar mappings to those he portrays for the case between cultures
(in Fig 1 and 2). The information processing consequences (Annex 1) are as relevant
in distinguising between sub- cultures as they are in distinguishing between
cultures. Within an English-speaking culture, for example, one would expect to
find a sub-culture of people and groups who have information processing preferences
analogous to those predominating in Latin cultures. Conversely within Latin cultures,
one would expect to find a sub-culture of people or groups with information processing
preferences analogous to those predominating in English- speaking cultures.
This makes it clear why some proportion of a population may be especially sympathetic
to information processing approaches characteristic of another culture. But it
also highlights the illusion of assuming from that interest that the 'market' for
that approach could easily be extended to the remainder of the population to
the same degree as in the culture where that mode predominates.
Modelling inter-linguistic discontinuity
Although it is useful to identify differences distinguishing languages/cultures,
methods of organizing this information need to be sought if the potential consequences
of such differences are to be understood in relation to information overload
and information underuse. The study by Hofstede is clearly very helpful in this
respect and he himself has used the resulting insights in the design of courses
for managers in multi-cultural organizations. However his study is not especially
explicit about the problems of managing a set of differences (contradictory perspectives),
especially in relation to information processing. The purpose of this section
is therefore to look at some ways of organizing information about differences
that can throw further light on the information processing problem.
(a) Varieties of language
There is an extensive literature endeavouring to categorize languages and
families of languages, unfortunately this literature is remarkable for
its failure to clarify the conceptual distinctions between languages as
they might affect the processing of information. The focus is on grammatical
structures and word forms. It would therefore be instructive to have a
relatively simple model to illustrate and interrelate such conceptual distinctions.
One basis for such a model is suggested by a recent paper of William Huff
on varieties of homonym.
His concern is the question of how to represent succinctly the variety of
ways in which words (in English, in his case) can be distinguished taking
into account similarities and differences in written form, pronounciation
and meaning. In essence this is analogous to the problem of how to represent
the variety of different languages, taking into account similarities and
differences in representational form, style of expression and meaning.
Huff makes use of the binary bar coding device used in the Chinese I Ching
system (32) to present the range of forms indicated in Figure 3. He has produced
extensive word lists illustrating the different patterns of similarity/dissimilarity
Place Figures 3 and 4 here
An equivalent version for Fig. 3 could be produced in the form of Fig 4. It
represents a pattern of 8 hypothetical languages which are maximally distinct
from each other within the rules imposed by the coding system. That system
however also highlights degrees of similarity, equivalence and contrast between
Whilst Fig. 4 can be used to illustrate many important problems in relation
to information processing, the problems are in many ways less interesting.
In effect Fig. 4 can best be used to illustrate the gross differences between
languages which must be resolved if any kind of transformation or translation
is to be designed to permit an information
'carrier wave' to travel appropriately between two languages. Fig.
4 is however interesting in that it does illustrate different strategies for
using the language facility, some of which raise considerable problems for
- 'identity': this is the ideal form for scientific communication and is
obligatory in the case of computer languages;
- 'synonym': this is an acceptable alternative in scientific communication and
is acceptable in the syntax of more sophisticated computer languages (if provision has
been made for the variant);
- remainder: the remainder constitute specific problems confronted by machine translation
and voice recognition programmes.
This last group involves variants of language of double meaning, puns, symbolism,
metaphor, poetry, or the encryption of one language into another (as in secret languages
or codes). Exploration and exploitation of one of these variants may be the prime
characteristic of a language. The Malay language makes very extensive use of metaphor for
Whilst the complexity of Figure 4 is sufficient to indicate the kinds of variation between
languages understood in their more obvious sense (permitting people to send information to
each other), it is clearly not sufficient to indicate whether such information is likely
to be considered significant. It takes more than the capacity to send and receive messages
for an exchange of information to be fruitful. Figure 4 therefore models the
'gross' difference between languages. An equivalent device may be used in
conjunction with it to indicate the 'subtle' or intangible differences.
An interesting question raised by a presentation like Figure 4 is the nature of the
relation between the languages denoted by the 8 trigrams. Within the Chinese culture the
symmetries and complementarities between the line structures of different trigrams are the
subject of extensive commentary, especially since there each trigram represents a
condition or mode which may at any time become transformed into one of the other
conditions. In Gardner's study of multiple intelligences (discussed above), he
specifically states that current evidence does not indicate that the individual
intelligence 'modules' are to be conceived as being 'yoked' to any
other modules or to any governing module. What his study does not explore is the
transitions from one module to another. In the Chinese interpretation such transitions are
indicated by a change in one or more of the lines making up a trigram. This implies a set
of transformation pathways between such distinct modes despite (or in response to) the
discontinuities between them.
The pattern of Figures 4 may be usefully presented in an alternative manner as in Figure
5. Chinese explorations of such representations exist (32).
Place Figure 5 here
The trigrams are positioned in relation to each other such that the change from one form
to another is indicated by the number of edges of the cube to be traversed. The maximum
difference being naturally 3, namely 3 edges.
This sort of presentation suggests the value of reflecting onconfigurations of
intelligences, modes or languages in which each has a specific function (but in which none
remains continually, dominant except under abnormal circumstances). Aspects of this
question have been explored by the Union of International Associations in its recent
'Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential' (33). Given the extensive
literature on computer models of the brain, such configurations of independent functions
recall current explorations of configurations of microprocessors into rings, trees,
meshes, quoit- like toruses or (most recently) hypercubes. This suggests more fruitful
ways of thinking about the possible relationships between a configuration of distinct
languages to improve information processing capacity.
(b) Communicable insights: the geometry of connectivity
The arguments of the previous section can be clarified and taken a step further
using the work of Ron Atkin on q-analysis, namely the theory and application
of mathematical relations between finite sets. He has applied this to the analysis
of communication patterns within complex organizations. (34, 35, 36).
The perceptual significance of this approach is well-illustrated by visual
sensitivity to colours resulting from the three primary hues (red, green and
blue). These may be represented on a simple triangle :
Place Figure 6 here
Here the vertices (O-simplexes) represent the primary hues, the sides are twofold
combinations (1-simplexes), and the combination of the three hues makes the central
white (2-simplex). The 2-simplex, together with all its faces, forms a simplicial
complex KY (X) where X is the vertex set (red, green, blue) and Y is the set
of seven perceived colours.
Now to be able to see all the colours, a person's vision needs to have the ability
to function in the triangle as 2-dimensional 'traffic' on that geometry,
moving from location to location adjusting to the complexity of the geometrical
structure which carries the visual traffic. It however the person's vision is
limited to 1-dimensional traffic, then white could not be perceived because the
visual traffic of seeing is then restricted to the edges and vertices only. Similarly,
if the person's colour vision is only O-dimensional, then it is restricted to
the vertices. It can only see one vertex colour at a time and never a combination
(as represented by an edge). If vision was 3-dimensional, it would allow traffic
throughout the geometry, but would perceive other colours as well, calling for
a fourth vertex in order to contain the full range of combinations.
If the geometry represents concepts or languages (or even sets of issues faced
by an organization) instead of colours, then it would be expected that some people,
in relation to that set, would have O-dimensional comprehension (i.e. sensitive
to isolated primary issuesonly) and others would have 1-dimensional comprehension
(i.e. only sensitive to binary combinations of primary issues). The latter would
be unable to maintain attention to three concepts simultaneously in order to
perceive the threefold combination (the central, integrated 'white' issue). The threefold issue may then be termed a
2-hole in the pattern of communication connectivity amongst those involved. For
2-dimensional traffic however, the issue complex is coherent, comprehensible and well
integrated. For the 1-dimensional traffic, it feels less secure as a whole, since the
latter may only be experienced sequentially through a succession of experiences
('around the edges') from which the shape of the whole may be deduced
but not experienced For O-dimensional traffic, the integrated concept does not
exist, since experience is disconnected.
'Generally speaking it seems to be confirmed that action (of whatever kind) in the
community can be seen as traffic in the abstract geometry and that this traffic must
naturally avoid the holes (because it is impossible for any such action to exist in a
hole). The holes therefore appear strangely as objects in the structure, as far as the
traffic is concerned. The difference is a logical one in that the word 'q-hole'
describes a static feature of the geometry S(N), whilst the world 'q-object'
describes the experience of that hole by traffic which moves in S(N)' (34,
As an 'object' this phenomenon is an obstacle to communication and comprehension
and obliges those confronted with it to go 'around' in order to sense the higher
dimensionality by which it is characterized. Communications 'bounce off' such
objects. As a 'hole' this phenomenon engenders, or is engendered by, a pattern
of communication. It appears to function both as 'source' and 'sink'.
Atkin suggests that, in some way which is not yet fully understood, such object/holes act
as sources of energy for the possible traffic around them. From the initial research it
would appear that such objects/holes are characteristic of communication patterns in most
complex organizations. It seems highly probable that they can also be detected in any
partially ordered pattern of communication. As such 'societal problems',
'human needs', and 'human values' merit examination in this
light from the perspective of different languages.
Very concretely, Atkin has investigated situations in which the 'vertices'
(which could themselves be n-simplexes in a multidimensional geometry) are individuals or
offices linked together through various committees. They could also be governments or
disciplines. There will then be a lot of O-traffic and 1-traffic within and between
offices due to the details of their intra-and inter-office (bilateral) operations. This
traffic will circulate around the holes/objects which they constitute. Any n-level traffic
can only be encompassed, or be brought to rest, by an (n+1)-level body (e.g. an executive
or a committee). If the latter does not exist, such traffic will continue to circulate
around the q-objects in the structure and, according to Atkin, may be defined as noise. An
'empire builder' (or any elite), for example, in such an organizational system
will carefully create many q-holes underneath him (at the n-level), so that subordinate
bodies answerable only to his appointees, are trapped in the flow of noise between them
(34, p. 129). Atkin notes that even though the geometry may not have been rendered
explicit, such structures generate the feeling throughout a community of some 'power
behind the scenes' acting to outwit the formal structure. The special value of
q-analysis is that it can clarify why action/discussion in connection with (development)
issues tends to be 'circular' in the long-term, however energetic it may appear
in the short-term. As such it shows how social change is blocked by the way in
whichconceptual traffic patterns itself around the sensed core issue which is never
confronted as such because the connectivity pattern is inadequate to the dimensionality of
the issue. This would explain why so many issues go unresolved and why the process of
'solving' problems becomes institutionally of greater importance than the actual
'elimination' of the problem.
When the elements of the triangle represent languages of different degrees of
complexity/sensitivity the kinds of distinct languages discussed in the previous
section would be represented by the vertices (just as they are in the cubic representation
of Figure 5). It is possible for a person or an organization to conduct all its
communication in one of these languages only. Communications in other languages
would be incomprehensible and to some degree inconceivable. It is possible to
envisage a different paradigm, corresponding to the 1-dimensional traffic, which
would permit movement between the primary languages via intermediate languages.
This would correspond to the mind-set of a polyglot or a polymath, for example.
Presumably more complex paradigms could also be envisaged. Atkin analyzes much
more complex situations in exploring information flows through the committee
structure of a complex organization. He is especially concerned with how information
on substantive issues gets moved around through appropriate committees without
it being necessary to confront core issues or bring them into focus, namely the
bureaucratic technique of handling information overload by avoiding use of that
Q-analysis gives precision to the recognition that communication complex, traffic
of different degrees of content connectivity finds (or creates) its appropriate
level in any psycho-social presucmably including a language. Communicable insights
are level-bound, especially where they are of high connectivity. In other words,
at the level within which we can communicate, concepts cannot necessarily be
anchored unambiguously into terms and definitions which 'travel well'. Precision introduces distortion which is only
acceptable locally within any communicating society - although 'locally' must
be interpreted in the non-geographical sense in which all nuclear physicists
are near neighbours, for example.
The relation between two personal or institutional structures, conceived as a
multidimensional backcloth, carries whatever traffic that constitutes the communication
between them. If this backcloth changes by becoming dimensionally smaller, then
its geometry loses vertices and the consequent connectivity properties. This
is first indicated by the failure of higher dimensional traffic which the geometry
can no longer carry. Such 4-traffic, for example, must then move through the
structure to some new haven of 4- dimensionality or it must change its nature
and become genuine 3-traffic. This process of reducing communication expectations
in order to continue to live within the new warped geometry is the classical
problem of compromising. The feeling of 'having to
compromise' is a painful one. It is the feeling of stress induced by the
warping of the communication geometry, namely the direct experience of a structurally
induced force, in this case a 4- force (34, pp. 146-7). It is the feeling associated
with the distortion of an unsatisfactory translation between languages. This
approach clearly provides a very precise approach to understanding more subtle
forms of structural violence. Atkin has applied it to an analysis of unemployment
(34, p. 148).
Such considerations suggest the power of q-analysis in clarifying approaches
to human and social development in general. Reducing the dimensionality of the
geometry on which a person (or group) is able to live is an impoverishment associated
with repressive forces. Expanding the dimensionality induces positive, attractive
forces through which a sense of development and enrichment is experienced (34,
p. 163). Q-analysis seems to be a valuable new language through which precision
can be given to intuitive experiences and their communication, particularly since
it provides an explicit measure of obstruction to change.
In the case of social development, it is probable that most continuing societal
problems should be seen as holes/objects, especially given the well-established
record of unfruitful action in response to them - however vigorous and dedicated.
Typical examples are: peace/disarmament, development, human rights, environment,
etc. Q-analysis could then provide understanding of why any action tends to be
drawn into a vortex of futuility, however much it satisfies short-term political
needs for visible 'positive'
action. The participants in the action find themselves 'circulating' around
a central concern of which they are unable to obtain an overview due to the geometries
of the overlapping conceptual and organizational structures through which they
work (or which they somehow engender).
The term 'futility' used above is however only appropriate if the sole
considerations were the elimination of such problems. In fact the existence of such
problems is extremely important to the organization of society, to social development, and
to the direct or indirect employment of many people. Just as the 'defence'
business is vital to the economy of many countries, so is the 'social problem'
business vital to many sectors of society. Eliminating social problems would
be a disaster for many people, especially problem-oriented intellectuals, the
employees of problem-solving agencies, or indeed those in need of stimulus and
In the case of human development, Atkin shows how the individual can be defined
in terms of a multidimensional geometry requiring a minimum of four levels (34,
p. 111). By relating this geometry to that of society, Atkin introduces an 8-level
scheme (34, p. 162) within which the degree of integration or eccentricity of
communication can be clarified in terms of developmental or anti-developmental
Concerning such levels, the question arises as to whether their hierarchical
order is fixed. Preoccupations associated with Schumacher's 'small is beautiful', for
example, may well modify the order. The ordering may be a question of orientation in which
the 'top' and 'bottom' elements selected depend on the preferred
concept and direction of development (e.g. 'top-down',, 'bottom-up').
This would be more consistent with the concept of order as an (existential) choice as
discussed above in connection with the various fourfold 'languages'.
In such a multidimensional geometry it is clear that, whether in the case of
an individual, a group or society as a whole, it is not possible to eliminate
'underdevelopment' as associated with low dimensionality. Such a geometry
will necessarily continue to have traffic of very low-level connectivity co-present
with that of increasingly higher level connectivity. The simplest illustration
arises from the continual birth of infants who will, when resources permit, continue
to be educated through to the level of connectivity to which they can respond.
But there will always be communication at both low and high- connectivity levels,
especially about socio-politicalissues. The question is then how such learning
communication between these different levels of connectivity can weave itself
together within a social structure.
It is the status of the holes/objects in relation to development which could
provide an interesting point of departure for further investigation. As noted
above, it is not a question of attempting vainly to eliminate such holes, especially
when some of them may arise from alternative concepts of 'development'. Rather it is a question of how
configurations of holes can be identified and/or designed. It is such configurations of
holes which provide the minimum structure (and communication dynamics) to stabilize and
give form to the co-presence of the differing 'answers' to the challenge
In effect such holes exist at a lower connectivity-level than the 'macro-hole'
of higher connectivity constituted by the world problematique at this time. This
macro-crisis hole 'absorbs' the development initiatives of society
by engendering the immense volume of action/communication traffic around the
hole so defined. This draws attention to the developmental implications of the
probable presence of holes of yet higher dimensionality than can be readily sensed
or made the subject of acceptable public (consensual) communication.
How then are 'better' holes to be engendered within such configurations?
Now from one point of view it is necessary to avoid introducing an element of
evaluation, because from each hole the perception of other holes will be distorted
so that no communicable assessment can be usefully formulated. On the other hand,
it may prove to be the case that, at the level of the configuration as a whole,
more than one such configuration can be identified/designed in order to interrelate
the perspectives associated with the set of holes. And at this level, without
privileging any particular hole, more adequate interrelationships between the
elements making up the holes can be identified.
Expressed differently, introducing evaluative judgements into the relationships
between the holes within a particular configuration can only contribute to the
dynamics between such holes in terms of perceived advantage/disadvantage. Excessive
emphasis on this runs the risk of tearing the configuration apart. The identities
associated with the holes can be respected in each of the configurations in a
series constituting progressively more adequate or richer formulations of the
relationships between 'developments'.
There is consequently a multiplicity of concepts of development operative in society.
Individuals and groups may 'progress' from one to another, possibly with a
general tendency towards those of higher connectivity. But other individuals and groups
will emerge and find the concepts of lower connectivity more meaningful before moving on,
if they do, to those of higher connectivity. (In this sense the 'ontogenesis' of
an individual tends to repeat the 'phylogenesis' of his/her society).
Society in this sense is the arena within which individuals and groups refine
their concept of development.
(c) Languages as frozen portions of learning cycles
In different ways the previous sections suggest that it might be fruitful to
consider the apparent isolation of languages as being due to an inability to
understand how to move between such languages. Although each language constitutes
a rich learning environment, itbecomes a trap if no way can be found to exploit
the advantages of other languages when they may be more appropriate. In a sense
each language provides a mode of information processing which is effectively
a frozen portion of a larger learning cycle. Each such portion, just as with
an organ in the human body, processes certain kinds of information in a manner
significant for the whole, but within the prevailing paradigm there is no means
of transferring the significance extracted to other contexts within the whole
where it may be of value.
In the West part of the difficulty lies in the conception of learning as a linear
process resulting in a shift in comprehension from A to B. It is only in the
insights of Western poets that there is any recognition that, as stated by TS
Eliot: 'The end of all our
exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time'.
Gregory Bateson does however makes a strong case for the essential discontinuity of the
learning process as a 'zigzag dialectic between form and process' (37,
p. 194). If the zigzag is considered as occuring around a learning cycle however,
marrying in the Eastern bias towards recurrence, this cycle can then be subdivided
into sufficiently detailed elements to be of significance for organizational
operations. Jantsch discusses cyclical organization in terms of the system logic
of dissipative self-organization:
'Hypercycles, which link autocatalytic units in cyclical organization, play an
important role in many natural phenomena of self-organization, spanning a wide spectrum
from chemical and biological evolution to ecological and economic systems and systems of
population growth. The cyclical organization of a system may itself evolve if
autocatalytic participants mutate or new processes become introduced. The co-evolution of
participants in a hypercycle leads to the notion of an ultracycle which generally
underlies every learning process'. (38, p. 15)
The question then becomes how many discontinuous phases (Jantsch's
'participants') it is useful to distinguish in the cycle. Too few and
the incompatibilities between them are too fundamental, too many and the distinctions
between them are too subtle. The operational significance of this conceptual
constraint has been explored in earlier papers from which it is apparent that
significance is lost if more than about 7 categories are used (39), unless the
total breaks down into sub-sets based on simple (e.g. 2,3,5) factors (40).
A novel approach to the learning cycle in relation to action has been taken by
Arthur Young (41) as a consequence of his experience as the inventor of the Bell
helicopter (whose three-dimensional movement is notoriously difficult to control.
He established the vital learning-action link through a new interpretation of
the operational significance of the set of 12 'measure formulae' through
which material phenomena are observed, acted upon and controlled in physics and
engineering. These he portrays as corresponding to a series of phases in a learning-action
cycle. Of special interest for the development theme is the significance he attaches
to the sequence of movement around the cycle: one direction involving essentially
unremembered experience-without-learning, the other involving conscious-learning-action.
His approach has been adapted and modified to further emphasize the action-learning
significance (Section KD, 33). It is interesting that the philosopher Stephane
Lupasco also attaches importance to the analysis of such measures in terms of
the polarities they constitute and the types of energy with which they are associated
(42, p. 26).
Place Figure 7 here
This approach clarifies how portions of such a cycle are vulnerable to
institutionalization (as specialized, independent answer domains, or habital
responses) to the extent that there is no learning bridge across the discontinuities.
The problem of (social) integration is thus intimately related to the functioning
of (collective) learning cycles. It seems probable that needs (and their satisfiers)
also relate to different portions of such cycles, as would ranges of incompatible
development goals or alternative visions of desirable futures. In each case the
point to be emphasized is that such seemingly incompatible fragments are 'frozen' portions
of a cycle with which individuals or groups identify. None are of lasting significance
in their own right, especially insofar as they hinder the collective learning
process which must take place through them.
The facilitative and obstructive factors to further learning (i.e. successful
'struggle' in marxist terms) at each stage in the cycle are probably linked to
patterns of complementarity and incompatibility between the stages according to their
memberships of (2,3, or 4-member) sub-sets in the cycle (e.g. preceding and succeeding
stages in the cycle are in conflictual relationship since they would correspond to
thinking of the opposite hemisphere). Answers given from any part of a cycle are of course
'questionable' as perceived from other parts of the cycle.
A single cycle is probably not a sufficiently concrete representation of the
complexity to be encompassed by an adequate meta-language. Where several cycles
interlock to form a sphere, the nodes are effectively combinations of cyclic
phases. The relationships of challenge and harmony between such nodes have been
discussed in earlier papers (43, 44, 45) concerning Fuller's tensegrity concept
The acid test of learning cycles however, is whether they can encompass the
discontinuities between the major political tendencies by which the world community
is seemingly divided. Any such relationship posited must necessarily be highly
controversial, but the controversy should be patterned according to the aspects
of the learning challenges involved. This has been explored elsewhere (47).
(d) Wholeness and the implicate order
The previous sections consider how various essentially complementary languages
might be fitted together, in effect a 'bottom-up' approach. Further
insight into the information processing problem may be obtained by assuming than
it is biases in man's current mode of thought (especially in the case of Western
man) which cause such languages to be perceived as separate in the first place.
As a theoretical physicist, David Bohm is concerned with the illusory nature
of fragmentation (48, 49) and the manner in which distinct fragments emerge from
wholeness in movement (50). Hesees the perceptual problems with which he deals
as being as relevant to a more healthy response to psychosocial fragmentation
as to the problems of fundamental physics. The value of Bohm's perspective for
understanding healthy individual development has in fact been recently stressed
by a physician Larry Dossey (51).
For Bohm: 'the widespread pervasive distinctions between people (race, nation,
family, profession, etc.), which are now preventing mankind from working together for the
common good, and indeed, even for survival, have one of the key factors of their origin in
a kind of thought that treats things as inherently divided, disconnected, and 'broken up'
into yet smaller constituent parts...considered to be essentially independent and
self-existent.' (50, xi).
Attempting to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate
is then what leads to the growing series of extremely urgent crises with which
society is confronted. 'Individually there has developed a widespread feeling of helplessness
and despair, in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming mass of disparate social
forces, going beyond the control and even the comprehension of the human beings who are
caught up in it.' (50, p. 2). And yet the seeming practicality and convenience of the
process of divisive thinking about things supplies man with 'an apparent proof of the
correctness of his fragmentary self-world view.'
Basing his investigations on insights from the current state of physics, Bohm
'on the subtle but crucial role of our general forms of thinking in sustaining
fragmentation and in defeating our deepest urges toward wholeness or integrity'. (50,
p. 3). He arrives at the conclusion that 'our general world view is itself an overall
movement of thought, which has to be viable in the sense that the totality of activities
that flow out of it are generally in harmony, both in themselves and with regard to the
whole existence.' (50, p. xii). This view implies that 'flow is, in some sense,
prior to that of the 'things' that can be seen to form and dissolve in this flow'.
(50, p. 11). Thus the 'various patterns that can be abstracted from it have a certain
relative autonomy and stability, which is indeed provided for by the universal law of the
flowing movement'. (50, p. 11).
Of special relevance to the question of human and social development, is that
the above- mentioned desirable harmony 'is seen to be possible only if the world view itself
takes part in an unending process of development, evolution, and unfoldment, which fits as
part of the universal process that is the ground of all existence.' (50, p. xii).
This has the merit of grounding the concept of development in movement from which
appropriate conceptual and social forms temporarily arise, rather than, as is presently
done, starting from some 'thing' (e.g. a society, a community, or a person)
which has to be stimulated into a process of movement and change that is then called
'development' (under certain conditions).
Bohm cautions against the expectations of quick remedies: 'To ask how to end
fragmentation and to expect an answer in a few minutes makes even less sense than to ask
how to develop a theory as new as Einstein's was when he was working on it, and to expect
to be told what in terms of some programme, expressed in terms of formulae or
recipes...What is needed, however, is somehow to grasp the overall formative cause of
fragmentation, in which content and actual process are seen together, in their
wholeness'. (50, p. 18).
As he notes, this confronts us with a very difficult challenge: 'How are we to think
coherently of a single, unbroken, flowing actuality of existence as a whole, containing
both thought (consciousness) andexternal reality as we experience it?' (50, p. x).
The approach he suggests requires looking at the challenge in a new way. Instead of aiming
for some reflective correspondence between 'thought' and 'reality as a
whole' the process of thinking about reality as a whole can more usefully be thought
of as a kind of 'dance of the mind' (determining, and being determined)
which functions indicatively. (50, pp. 55-6).
Bohm explores the implications of quantum theory as an indication of 'new
order'. The questions he raises are also relevant the emergence of any new
psychosocial order. He demonstrates that in the past recognition of new patterns of order
has involved attention to 'similar differences and different similarities' (50,
p. 115), namely the 'irrelevance of old differences, and the relevance of new
differences' (50, p. 141). The radical transformation of understanding brought
about by quantum theory, for example, results from recognition of the way in
which modes of obsevation and of theoretical understanding are related to each
For Bohm, however, comprehending the new order bears some resemblance to artistic
perception. He uses Piaget's distinction between assimilation (understanding,
render comprehensible) and accommodation (adaptation, fitting to a pattern) as
the basic modes of intelligent perception. This artistic perception then begins
by 'observing the whole
fact in its full individuality, and then by degree articulates the order that is proper to
the assimilation of this fact.' (50,p.141) Thus it does not begin with abstract
preconceptions as to what the order has to be, which are then 'adapted' to
the order that is observed.
Bohm uses the differences between a lens system (in measurement processes) and
a holographic system to show how by use of the former 'scientists were encouraged to
extrapolate their ideas and to think that such an (analytical) approach would be relevant
and valid no matter how far they went, in all possible conditions, contexts, and degrees
of approximation.'(50,p.144). The advances in relativity and quantum theory imply,
however, an undivided wholeness in which such 'analysis into distinct and
well-defined parts is no longer relevant.' This is best illustrated by the
hologram in which a whole pattern is somehow encoded into each part, no matter
how small. The new order appropriate to our time could then be conceived as contained
as a totality, encoded in some implicit sense into each region of space and time
He elaborates an entirely new way of understanding order as 'implicate', or
enfolded, which he contrasts with 'explicate' forms that are commonly
observed and sought. The simplest example he gives is of a television image,
carried by a radio wave in an implicate order, and then explicated by a receiver.
In more general terms, Bohm argues that the underlying wholeness in movement
'holomovement'), noted above, acts like the radio wave to 'carry' an
implicate order. Under certain circumstances particular things (objects, phenomena,
people, nations) can then be unfolded from this dynamic totality by a perceiver, but the
holomovement is not limited in any specifiable way at all. As such it does not conform to
any particular order and is essentially undefinable and immeasurable. This means that no
single theory can capture or contain phenomena on a permanent basis. Rather, each theory
will abstract a certain aspect that is relevant only in some limited context, lifting it
temporarily into attention so that it stands out in relief (50,p.151). Furthermore, any
new order within which a multiplicity of such aspects are 'integrated' is itself
not a final goal(as in efforts at 'unified science'), but rather part
of a movement from which new wholes are continually emerging (50,p.157).
This approach is very helpful in opening up ways of conceiving development and
new forms of social order. In providing a mathematical description of implicate
order, for example, Bohm makes a useful distinction between: transformation,
as a geometric rearrangement within a given explicate order, and metamorphosis,
as a much more radical change (such as between a caterpillar and a butterfly)
in which everthing alters, although 'some
subtle and highly implicit features remain invariant'(50,p.160). The former
characterizes much development thinking, whereas the subtlety of the latter has
hitherto made it appear non-operational or equivalent to catastrophe.
Given Atkin's use of simplical complexes to describe social organization, it
is also interesting that Bohm suggests the extension of this technique in terms
'multiplexes' (50,p.166-7). His argument that phenomena need to be
perceived as projections of a higher-dimensional reality for which appropriate
algebras are required (50,p.188), relates to Thom's concerns with mathematical
The challenge of Bohm's arguments lies in the manner in which they strike at
the very root of the meaning of human and social development. His arguments highlight
the extent to which both the physical and social sciences continue to rely on
a Cartesian framework (if only in the familiar tabular/matrix presentations characteristic
of social science papers) at a time when inherent weaknesses in the thinking
behind such frameworks have been demonstrated. His most basic point is that the
phenomena such as those which are the preoccupation of 'development' (peoples, ideologies, groups, societies) are
essentially derivative. 'The things that appear to our senses are derivative forms
and their true meaning can be seen only when we consider the plenum, in which they are
generated and sustained, and into which they must ultimately vanish'. (50,p.192) In
this light, the basic flaw in present development thinking is the a priori recognition of
certain distinct social entities which it now seems desirable to
It is precisely this conception (as argued on different grounds by the world-system
theorists) which reduces development to 'sterile' transformative operations and
prevents any metamorphoses (to use Bohm's terms). For it is development which precedes and
underlies such explicate social entities as a movement from which they have been unfolded:
'what is movement' (50,p.203). Metamorphosis thus calls for ways of unfolding
new, currently implicate forms from this holomovement, and enfolding into it those which
are currently explicate, but are inadequate to the time. This is far removed from
mechanistic efforts to 'eliminate' undesirable structures and to
'build' new ones from their components.
It should not be assumed that this implicate order is an inaccessible theoretical
abstraction. Bohm argues that conscionsness itself operates by enfolding and
unfolding and that 'not only is immediate experience best understood in terms of the implicate
order, but that thought also is basically to be comprehended in this order'.
(50,p.204). This creates the possibility for 'an unbroken flowing movement from
immediate experience to logical thought and back' thus ending the fragmentation
characteristic of the absence of any awareness of such movement (50,p.203). He argues that
movement is itself sensed primarily in the implicate order and that Piaget's work
'supports the notion that the experiencing of the implicate order isfundamentally
much more immediate and direct than that of the explicate order, which...requires a
complex construction that has to be learned' (50,p.206).
Different languages may thus be understood as different ways of unfolding the
implicate order. Atkin's work suggests ways in which the intuitively sensed differences
between such unfoldings may be articulated in mathematical terms which are highly
relevant to the problems of information transfer in modern society.
(e) Configuration of languages as a resonance hybrid
Although Bohm's perspective clarifies the nature of the problem further, it
does not say anything about the relationship between the different languages
which emerge other than in the sense that they can be re-enfolded into an implicate
order. Since the challenge is to deal with co-existant, and very different, modes
of information processing another perspective is also fruitful.
The set of alternative structures, between which alternation takes place in any
learning cycle, may be more clearly understood in the light of the theory of
resonance. Johan Galtung first explored the possibility of using the organization
of chemical molecules to clarify the description of social organization (53).
He dealt with fixed structures and not with the transition between alternatives.
The theory of resonance in chemistry is concerned with the representation of
the actual normal state of molecules by a combination of several alternative 'resonable' structures,
rather than by a single valence-bond structure. The molecule is then conceived
as resonating among the several valence-bond structures, or rather to have a
structure that is a resonance hybrid of these structures.
The classic example of a resonance hybrid is the benzene molecule of 6 carbon
atoms for which F A Kekul introduced the idea of oscillation between two alternative
structures. The pattern of oscillation was later extended by Linus Pauling to
include three more distinct alternates. The actual configuration is a resonance
hybrid of the five forms, which through quantum mechanics has been shown to have
an energy less than any of the alternate structures. This is potentially of great
significance for any social structure analogue, in view of the call for a low-energy
society. Given the fundamental role of the benzene molecular configuration as
the basis for most living structures, it is worth asking (in the light of the
sixfold restraint discussed in earlier entries) why it is composed of six atoms.
The answer is that it is this configuration which ensures minimal strain on the
distribution of the four valency bonds of each carbon atom, thus resulting in
a minimal energy configuration. It is worth reflecting on this model in the light
of the research showing that the upper limit for effective committee or task
force organization, the basis for social organization, is seven, plus or minus
Such structures recall the context of Bohm's arguments concerning unfoldment
of explicate forms. The wave function representing a stationary state of a resonance
hybrid in quantum mechanics can be expressed as the sum of the wave functions
that correspond to several hypothetical alternates. The proper combination is
that sum which leads to a minimal energy for the system. Of significance in any
social structure analogue is that the higher energy of each alternate is associated
with some degree of 'distortion'
(different in kind in each case), which effectively renders the alternate meta-stable.
(Also worth exploring is the contrasting concept of a'resonance particle'.
This is any exceedingly unstable high energy particle, which may be considered
as a composite of several relatively stable low energy particles into which it
Resonance hybrids could well provide a key to the conception, design and operation
of coalitions of people or groups using forms of information or modes of information
processing so different that the coalitions could not cohere for any length of
time in one single form but could be stable if the coalition alternated between
distinct forms. Underlying this possibility, hybrids are also of interest in
integrating incompatible perspectives, paradigms and policies without eroding
their distinctiveness in some simplistic compromise. Whilst the value of using
such resonance models may be contested, they do have the advantage of shifting
the debate, currently somewhat sterile, to a level at which the merits of particular
answers are no longer the sole issue. The need is for investigation of 'resonable' structures, however 'unreasonable' they
may appear from any particular perspective. They open the way to more fruitful
discussions both about how alternation between the contradictory information
characteristic of a complex society can be improved and about the kinds of social
structures that could be based upon such patterns of alternation.
(a) Re-interpretation of information overload/underuse
The argument of the previous sections suggests the need to reinterpret the
significance attached to information 'overload' and 'underuse'. For whilst there
may be a large amount of information circulating, if such information were to be tagged by
the implicit 'language' (in the broad sense of the term used here),
it would become clearer as to why many non-users of that language were avoiding
use of information presented in that language. Such information would be perceived
as presented in an unmeaningful manner and might be subject to strong criticism
totally insensitive to the fact that the information is in effect presented in
a different language which others find useful.
Where there is an excessive amount of information available in the same language,
the overload problem needs to be seen in the light of the need for a more selective
language to filter out the information which does not contribute to insights
at a new level of significance.
Means need to be found to make distinctions between different forms of openness
and closure to information. On this question the presentation of Orrin E Klapp 'Opening
and Closing' is extremely helpful (54). He argues that it is normal for individuals
and societies to alternate between openness and closure to information. This alternation
constitutes a strategy of living systems against entropy. The merit of his approach is
that he distinguishes between four categories or sectors: bad opening (e.g. information
overload) and good opening (e.g. innovation), as well as bad opening (e.g. information
overload) and bad closing (e.g. meaningless and banality). He summarizes the situation in
the following figure. 'Stresses such as information overload and loss of trust come
from straying too far and too often into losing sectors... Strategy requires sensitive
alternation of opening and closing according to advantages perceived. Therefore, openness
or closedness is not a fixedstructural feature of a system but a changing life strategy of
organisness and groups' (54, p. ix).
Klapp sees the challenge of modernization as being one of distinguising more
clearly between good opening and bad opening 'Information unbalance, then, is being too long
in a losing position in this game, especially in a lower sector of the field... Coping
requires continual maneuvering, depending on feedback, one's own state (fatigue, etc), and
one's position on the field. Inundated by noise and bad vibrations, one turns toward good
closing. Stifled by the banality of a plastic world, one may seek good opening' (54,
pp. 158-9). As he stresses, shifting between such different conditions is an appropriate
method of responding to the dynamic information environment. This corresponds to the need
for 'resonance' as discussed above.
(b) Need for insightful metaphors
It is difficult to obtain coherent patterns of insights from conventional analyses
of the implicit languages used in different sectors of society. There is therefore
a strong case for exploring metaphors and patterns of metaphors capable of
focussing and highlighting insights. Even in relation to the question of information
overload and underuse, Klapp draws attention to the parallel between food and
information (54, p. 156) :
- Food Information
- Overload Gluttony and its excesses Information overload, irrelevance
- Optimum Balanced nutrition Adequate education and problem-solving
- Scarcity Starvation, malnutrition Hunger for education and information
- Pollution Poisoning Deception, manipulation disinformation
In the light of this metaphor it is interesting to reflect on the problems of food
sarcity and surpluses in the world. The conceptual and other factors which engender such
penury and surpluses are to a large extent reflected in the creation, storage and
distribution of information.
The difficulty in exploring patterns of alternation between languages is the seeming lack
of concrete (as opposed to abstract) examples by which the credibility of such patterns in
practice may become apparent. The rotation of agricultural crops is therefore an
interesting'earthy' practice to explore in the light of the mind-set which it
has required of farmers for several thousand years.
Crop rotation is the alternation of different crops in the same field in some (more or
less) regular sequence. It differs from the haphazard change of crops from time to time;
in that a deliberately chosen set of crops is grown in succession in cycles over a period
of years. Rotations may be of any length, being dependent on soil, climate, and crop. They
are commonly of 3 to 7 years duration, usually with 4 crops (some of which may be grown
twice in succession). The different crop rotations on each of the fields of the set making
up the farm as a whole constitute a 'crop rotation system' when integrated
optimally. Long before crop rotation became a science, practice demonstrated that crop
yields decline if the same crop is grown continuously in the same place. There are
therefore many benefits, both direct and indirect to be obtained from good rotational (55,
pp. 170-8) :
- (a) Control of pests: with each crop grown the emergence of characteristic weeds,
insects and diseases is facilitated. Changing to another crop inhibits the spread of such
pests which would otherwise become uncontrollable (to the point that some crops should not
be grown twice in succession). By rotating winter and summer crops, the farmer fights
summer weeds in the winter crop and winter weeds in the summer crop.
- (b) Maintenance of organic matter: some crops deplete the organic matter in the soil,
other increase it.
- (c) Maintenance of soil nitrogen supply: no single cropping system will ordinarily
maintain the nitrogen supply unless leguminous crops are alternated with others.
- (d) Economy of labour: several crops may be grown in succession with only one soil
preparation (ploughing). For example: the land is ploughed for maize, the maize stubble is
disked for wheat, then grass and clover are seeded in the wheat.
- (e) Protection of soil: it was once believed necessary to leave land fallow for part of
the cycle. Now it is known that a proper rotation of crops, with due attention to
maintaining the balance of nutrients, is more successful than leaving the land bare and
exposed to leaching and erosion.
- (f) Complete use of soil: by alternation between deep and shallow-rooted crops the soil
may be utilized more completely.
- (g) Balanced use of plant nutrients: when appropriately alternated, crops reduce the
different nutrient materials of the soil in more desirable proportions.
- (h) Orderly farming: work is more evenly distributed throughout the year. The farm
layout is usually simplified and costs of production are reduced. The rushed work
characteristic of haphazard cropping is avoided.
- (i) Risk reduction: risks are distributed among several crops as a guarantee against
The situation is somewhat different in the case of single-species forests where
'rotation' is the guiding principle in the special sense of the economic age to
which each crop can be grown before it is succeeded by the next one. (For example, on a
100-year rotationrequired for oak, one per cent of the forest would be clear out each
year, and a further 20 percent thinned out). In total contrast to crop rotation is the
'monoculture' cropping system in which the same crop is grown every year. This
is possible on a large scale only by the heavy application of chemical fertilizers,
herbicides and pesticides. It leads to long-term problems of soil structure and erosion,
as well as to the accumulation of pollutants.
Because of the short-term advantages of fertilizers, efforts to design new approaches to
crop rotation have been limited. It is only with the resurgence of interest in non-
exploitive, non-polluting agriculture that such possibilities are being investigated (56).
From an agronomist's perspective, the problem is to strike a balance between harmonizing
the three-fold soil-plant-climate relationship and those of the economic constraints of
production. Because such threefold relationships are now fairly well understood, rotation
cycles can non be considered as a whole in which the order and the plants used are of
secondary importance. The problem is to ensure that the soil-plant-climate relationship is
in an optimally balanced state at every moment in order to become increasingly independent
of its past. The production constraints complicate this evolution and the choices
possible, especially when requirements change rapidly withouth taking into account the
recent history of a crop rotation (56).
There is a striking parallel between the rotation of crops and the succession of
(governmental) policies applied in a society. The contrast is also striking because of the
essentially haphazard switch between 'right' and 'left' policies.
There is little explicit awareness of the need for any rotation to correct for negative
consequences ('pests') encourages by each and to replenish the resources of
society ('nutrients', 'soil structure') which each policy so
There is no awareness, for example, of the number of distinct policies or languages
through which is is useful to rotate. Nor is it known how many such distinct cycles are
necessary for an optimally integrated world society in which the temporary failure of one
language or paradigm, due to adverse circumstances (disaster) is compensated by the
success of others. It is also interesting that during a period of increasing complaint
regarding cultural homogenization ('monoculture'), voters are either confronted
with single-party systems or are frustrated by the lack of real choice between the
alternatives offered. There is something to be learnt from the mind-sets and social
organizations associated with the stages in the history of crop rotation which evolved,
beyond the slash-and-burn stage, through a 2-year crop-fallow rotation, to more complex 3
and 4-year rotations. Given the widespread sense of increasing impoverishment of the
quality-of-life, consideration of crop rotation may clarify ways of thinking about what is
being depleted, how to counteract this process, and the nature of the resources that are
so vainly (and expensively) used as 'fertilizer' and 'pesticide' to
keep the system going in the short-term. The 'yield' to be maximized is
presumably human and social development.
(c) Shifting 'polyocular vision'
The arguments presented suggest the value of exploring means of shifting between
languages in order to place information 'overload' and 'underuse' in a dynamic
context. The challenge may well be less a question of replacing the existing condition as
of finding ways of shifting between its sub-conditions in a healthy manner. In arguing for
a heterogeneity of expistemologies, Maruyama offers a beautifulmetaphor in response to the
(homogenistic) question 'but which one is correct ?' He suggests that in
binocular vision it is irrelevant to raise the question as to which eye is correct and
which wrong. 'Binocular vision works, not because two eyes see different sides of the
same object, but because the differential between the two images enables the brain to
compute the invisible dimension' (15, p. 84). The brain computes a third dimension
which cannot be directly perceived and if we live in a multidimensional space even more
epistemological 'eyes' are required (16, p.269-272). Reducing such vision to the
parts in common provides much less than monocular vision. Each 'eye' has its
inherent limitations and strengths, and the homogenistic 'eye' presumably also
has its own vital contribution to make to the process of encompassing (or responding to)
the complexity of our collective condition. His work, with Harvey's (19), demonstrates
that a minimum of four such 'eyes' are required to describe the variety
of perceptions of our collective reality.
This paper has assembled together a range of pointers to a fundamental problem
of information exchange between languages as it might affect issues of information
overload and information underuse. Whilst it is relatively easy to ignore the
problem when operating within a single (conceptual) language framework, such
an attitude would appear to be highly suspect when dealing with the movement
of information between different (conceptual) languages or schools of thought.
Whilst there are strong and independent pointers to the existence of the problem,
these are not yet sufficient to indicate its dimensions. The problem is also
easily dismissed by those who are satisfied by the fact that tangible objects
such as 'shoe' or 'spade' can be denoted by
suitable words under practical conditions. There is however sufficient indication
that such satisfaction may be quite premature. For whilst difficulties may be
more limited in the case of specific tangible objects, this is far from being
the case when dealing with generic and abstract concepts.
In the haste of the international community to ensure global communication, the
differences in the conceptual structures associated with different languages,
ideologies and schools of thought are being ignored. Where the matter is studied
it is studied as a problem of translation not as a problem of conceptual ordering
intimately associated with the language or culture. Nor are these differences
mere curiosities, rather they appear to be distinct ways of ordering understanding
of the environment. As J Fraser notes in
'The Voices of Time':
'What for one discipline constitutes necessary and sufficient proof, may be judged
from the perspective of another field as neither a necessary nor a sufficient
demonstration of fact or truth. What by one set of standards is a salutary and correct
argument may sometimes be held, by another set of standards, as a useless waste of
energy... Categories of self-expression are not emotionally neutral devices upon which
people happen by chance. They are rooted in different ways of life which the disciples
seek because they find them satisfying. Of course, it is people and not things who have
peronalities, but men and women group themselves accordingly and thereby create, and
reinforce, the personalities of their professions' (9, xxvi-xxvii).
And it is such differences which are capable of exerting a strong influence on
the underuse of information.
The problem of underuse is further aggravated by the mutually exclusive nature
of languages. In employing one such conceptual language, one is deprived of the
possibility of making simultaneous use of some appropriate complementary language.
In response to this constraint there would seem to be a case for exploring 'configurations of
languages' and the dynamics of transfer between the languages of the configuration
in order to encompass phenomena which are excessively distorted by the capacities
of any one language.
The variety of languages may be treated either as an inconvenient obstacle or
as a conceptual resource. As a conceptual resource to determine the strengths
and weaknesses of languages under different circumstances, the most promising
method of conducting such an investigation appears to be through an adaptation
of q-analysis with its explicit recognition of the complex geometries on which
people function and which are presumably reflected in the conceptual structure
of the language they use. The key to understanding the function of language variety
in relation to information overload and underuse would then lie in understanding
how information flows through such geometries.
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