Transdisplinarity-3 as the Emergence of Patterned Experience
Transcending duality as the conceptual equivalent of learning to walk (Part I)
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Contribution to the 1st World Congress of Transdisciplinarity Arrabida, Portugal, November 1994. Abridged version published in: Jose Manuel Ferreira (Ed.) Proceedings of the First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity. Lisbon: Hugin Editores, 1998. Also published in Journal of the Interdisciplinary Crossroads, Volume 2, No. 2, August 2005 [abstract]
Abstract: This paper endeavours to distinguish between several approaches to understanding transdisciplinarity. The most common (Transdisciplinarity-1) is that based on efforts to formally relate the insights of particular disciplines, providing some form of logical meta-framework through which they may be integrated at a higher level of abstraction than interdisciplinarity. The second (Transdisciplinarity-2) is that associated much more intimately with individual experience in the moment. These two approaches are themselves contrasted with three other forms. Illustrative use of metaphor and figurative language may be considered a primitive form of transdisciplinarity (Transdisciplinarity-0). This should be considered distinct from that form of transdisciplinarity (Transdisciplinarity-3) associated with use of generative root metaphors having fundamental cognitive implications. Finally, it is useful to hypothesize the existence of a fifth form (Transdisciplinarity-4) that might in future combine the characteristics of the other forms in a more operationally fruitful way.
A. FORMS OF TRANSDISCIPLINARITY
Transdisciplinarity-1: abstract formal integration
B. RELATING THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF TRANSDISCIPLINARITY
C. PATTERNED EXPERIENCE: Distinguishing Transdisciplinarity-1 and 2
D. WALKING METAPHOR: The fundamental challenge to understanding
This paper endeavours to distinguish between several approaches to understanding transdisciplinarity. The most common (Transdisciplinarity-1) is that based on efforts to formally relate the insights of particular disciplines, providing some form of logical meta-framework through which they may be integrated at a higher level of abstraction than interdisciplinarity. The second (Transdisciplinarity-2) is that associated much more intimately with individual experience in the moment. These two approaches are themselves contrasted with three other forms. Illustrative use of metaphor and figurative language may be considered a primitive form of transdisciplinarity (Transdisciplinarity-0). This should be considered distinct from that form of transdisciplinarity (Transdisciplinarity-3) associated with use of generative root metaphors having fundamental cognitive implications. Finally, it is useful to hypothesize the existence of a fifth form (Transdisciplinarity-4) that might in future combine the characteristics of the other forms in a more operationally fruitful way.
Consistent with the argument of this paper, the intention is not to endeavour to formulate precise definitions of these different forms of transdisciplinarity. Rather the focus is on the implication of emphasis on one as opposed to another.
This work is part of a long-term programme of the Union of International Associations to maintain and publish an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1994). First published in 1976, this explores ways of organizing conceptual and experiential resources in response to some 10,000 world problems profiled from the documents of some 20,000 international organizations in every field of human activity (1994). The encyclopedia has reviewed many integrative conceptual approaches (see Section K, notably in the 1991 edition), especially in the light of the intractable differences between those with 'answers' to the problems of the world. Considerable work has been devoted to recording the many approaches to human development and the more integrative states of awareness documented in the literature of different disciplines, spiritual and otherwise (see Section H). Special attention has been given to the potential of metaphor in reframing the challenges and possibilities of conceptual and social organization (see Section M). Efforts have also been made to explicitly relate specific human values to both world problems and approaches to human development. The challenge of using new forms of computer-enhanced visual representations of such database relationships to facilitate higher orders of consensus is a continuing concern (see Section TZ).
A. Forms of transdisciplinarity
This form of transdisciplinarity is being progressively clarified through pressure on individual disciplines to interrelate their insights. This in part arises from the inadequacies detected in uni-disciplinary programmes and the consequent demands by society for more integrative approaches. Disciplines have traditionally resisted such pressures and university faculties have done much to reinforce this anti-integrative orientation. Increasing social opposition to the sciences in recent years has been a consequence.
The classic text that positions this form of transdisciplinarity in relation to the preoccupations of individual disciplines, interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity, is that of Erich Jantsch (1972). The continuing work that best exemplifies this form is that of general systems research, however its concerns are seen to overlap with the discipline of cybernetics (cf the International Society for Systems Sciences and the World Organization of Systems and Cybernetics) and the increasing interest in chaos theory and self-organization. Also relevant are attempts at a so-called Theory of Everything (TOE) in fundamental physics, as well as the concern with knowledge organization as exemplified by such bodies as the International Society for Knowledge Organization.
The debate on the possibilities of creating appropriate logical frameworks or meta-frameworks will continue and will undoubtedly be a major focus of this Congress. Subtle definitions distinguishing inter-disciplinarity from multi-, cross-, and pluri-disciplinarity will continue to be made, whether or not these distinctions can be meaningfully established in many natural languages (Judge, 1975). There is also the possibility that some languages may offer the possibility of a greater range of distinctions than is implied by such traditional greco-latin structural prefixes. The ability to integrate incommensurable perspectives and paradoxes within such frameworks will also be a concern, whether or not frameworks are sought which depend for their existence on the configuration of such differences (Schon, 1979, 1987).
There are, by definition, no experiential referents to Transdisciplinarity-1, however much that perspective may be associated with the study of experience. This may be one reason that relatively little social significance is generally attached to work in this area. The aesthetic pleasures of the pure mathematician and the intellectual delight in patterns of symmetry should not be seen as characteristic of this form of transdisciplinarity since such experiential dimensions are not integral to any formalized abstraction.
Quite foreign to the exploration of Transdisciplinarity-1 is that associated with integrative experience. Transdisciplinarity-1 derives primarily from the development of 'academic' disciplines and methodologies, leading to formal abstractions and explanations that are 'integrative' to varying degrees. Such integration may be associated with 'fundamental' theories.
Transdisciplinarity-2 derives largely from traditional 'disciplines' depending on some form of praxis, leading to a largely experiential knowledge base or way of seeing the world. Such transdisciplinarity may emerge from the integration within an individual of the cultural perspectives resulting from the practice of artistic disciplines (as distinct from disciplines studying the products or methods of the arts). It could be argued that transdisciplinarity ofthis kind may also be associated with long training in muscular coordination (dancers, practitioners of martial arts, and the like), given their sophisticated ability to respond to a variety of unforeseen situations. Another variant could be said to be associated with the higher forms of meditative and spiritual experience permitting some form of experiential transcendence. Another might be associated with the experience of a skilled statesman, politician, businessman or military commander. The aesthetic pleasures of the practitioner of the sciences may also be best associated with this form of transdisciplinarity. All these forms tend only to follow from years of training and experience -- although the degree of integration associated with transdisciplinarity is not a necessary consequence of such application.
It is frequently assumed in the West that little can be articulated concerning this form of transdisciplinarity. Many attempts have however been made, often with the most severe reservations (see Encyclopedia). Buddhists have been the most prolific in attempting to distinguish nearly 1,000 states of awareness preceding surprising breakthroughs to more integrative modes of experience. These articulations rely almost completely on use of metaphor.
The contrast between Transdisciplinarity-1 and 2 is discussed in greater detail below. The absence of formal abstraction makes Transdisciplinarity-2 virtually impossible to explain. Understood as culture, it can only be cultivated. There is a sense in which it may be learnt and experienced, but it cannot be satisfactorily explained. Much emphasis is made on learning by example, triggered by such devices as koans and mandalas. It may be appreciated by others as 'maturity' and 'presence'.
Perhaps the most primitive form of transdisciplinarity is associated with the use of figurative language and metaphor. This has been widely acknowledged as vital to the creative intellectual process (Klein, 1990; Holyoak, 1995). Advances within many disciplines have resulted from insights carried by metaphors, possibly as borrowings from other disciplines.
In this sense it is the intuitive attitude, that accepts the value and legitimacy of using metaphor, which is characteristic of Transdisciplinarity-0. Note that this attitude is poorly recognized and as such cannot be considered a conscious framework such as with the other forms of transdisciplinarity. Use of metaphor is usually considered quite unprofessional in the formalizations associated with Transdisciplinarity-1. For example, there is strong pressure to ensure that information systems are metaphor-free -- namely free from the ambiguity of multiple connotations.
This form of transdisciplinarity should probably be considered as the most widespread, with origins dating back to the earliest use of language and the origin of community. Skill in the use of metaphor and figurative language is honoured and appreciated in many cultures and indeed is an important characteristic of the arts, especially poetry. Use of metaphor as a way of articulating attitudinal responses to a complex environment is a vital feature of language even amongst the most disadvantaged (such as in impoverished regions and urban slums). Such metaphor enables people to transcend incommensurable domains of experience, namely domains between which no logically consistent relationship exists or can be communicated -- at least in the understanding of those involved. Community, as we currently know and experience it as an integrative framework, may be closely associated with Transdisciplinarity-0.
In distinguishing this form of transdisciplinarity from Transdisciplinarity-3 it is important to recognize the many relatively superficial ways in which metaphor can be used for illustrative and rhetorical purposes. It is this use as an essentially temporary bridging device which characterizes this form. Transdisciplinarity-0 is therefore associated with the ability to draw upon a pool of potential metaphors. The pool is in no way structured and it is this lack of structure that effectively characterizes this form of transdisciplinarity -- through its failure to provide any stable framework. As such it may be closely related to 'tacit knowledge' as an incoherent assembly of knowledge that provides a context for new experience (Polanyi, 1966).
In recent years there has been considerable interest in the cognitive function of metaphor as fundamental to the development and maintenance of cognitive and experiential frameworks. Such use of metaphor, which may even be unconscious, needs to be strongly contrasted with that of Transdisciplinarity-0. In a sense it is less a question of 'using' a metaphor (as in Transdisciplinarity-0) but rather of having conceptual and experiential processes articulated through a metaphor, or being embodied in metaphor. To some degree the 'user' is effectively trapped in, or 'used by', the metaphor as within a conceptual 'spell'. The root metaphor is effectively a kind of experiential carrier wave.
The challenges of comprehending the implications of such underlying or root metaphors have notably been articulated by George Lakoff (1980, 1987) and others. In Physics as Metaphor (1983), the whole approach of physics has been presented in this light, for example.
It can be argued that the isomorphic equivalences between levels of systems that have been so extensively explored in general systems research have a strong metaphoric dimension. However the important characteristic of Transdisciplinarity-3 is the experiential quality of its cognitive frameworks -- a quality totally lacking in the work of general systems.
Transdisciplinarity-3 raises the question as to the nature of the metaphoric framework through which a person, or a group, sees and relates to the world, whether consciously or unconsciously. In this sense it is necessarily holistic and transdisciplinary. Inconsistency, incommensurability and paradox have to be handled by such a framework, if only by repression and denial. This then raises the question of the nature of the metaphoric framework capable of minimizing the need for such repression and denial (Judge, 1994). Elsewhere it has been argued that more subtle forms of such transdisciplinarity may only be possible through the use of sets of complementary metaphors (Judge, 1994). This is best exemplified by the need for both the wave and particle metaphors in light physics.
In its most developed form, such transdisciplinarity is associated with the conscious holding of experiential paradox, especially around the nature of the relationship between subjective experience and objectivized patterning. This is to be contrasted with the exploration of logical paradoxes characteristic of Transdisciplinarity-1 and with existential paradoxes explored through Zen koans in relation to Transdisciplinarity-2.
A fifth form of transdisciplinarity may be usefully hypothesized as a challenge to the imagination. There is a sense in which the earlier forms are detached from the complexity of action in the moment (and even 'incompetent' in the 'fire of the moment') -- however ablethey may be to passively comprehend its complexity and dynamics. It is also questionable whether they are adequate as frameworks of transformation, especially when a basis must necessarily be found to permit the transdisciplinary framework itself to undergo transformation in order to evolve.
These reservations may least apply to the understandings integral to some of the more advanced forms of martial art. It is however healthy to hypothesize the existence of a mode of understanding in (and through) action capable of manipulating and transforming frameworks in response to action opportunities and a will to act. This appears to call for some more profound experiential sense of invariance that is perhaps the prime characteristic of Transdisciplinarity-4. To a higher degree than Transdisciplinarity-3, this would integrate paradox into spontaneous action in the moment.
Hints as to the nature of such transdisciplinarity are evident in some of the literature of the martial arts, Zen, Sufism, and Taoism (notably the writings of Chuang Tzu), especially as they relate to the magical arts (including their Western equivalents). Much of this information (to the extent that it may be considered reliable) is necessarily confused with other levels of understanding. In particular there is the challenge of establishing the distinction between this form of transdisciplinarity and that of Transdisciplinarity-2 and 3.
One approach to indicating the relationship between the different forms of transdisciplinarity is that of Figure 1.
The table is helpful in that it points to the possibility of people and groups who focus primarily on vertical movement or advance on the left (through specialized knowledge to integrative formal abstractions) or on the right (through aesthetic and meditative experience possibly leading to integrative personal transformation). It might be argued that both encounter a 'barrier' to greater integration. Objective synthesis is faced with the godelian challenge and involvement of the observer, notably in physics. Subjective synthesis is faced with the disruptive interference of social reality and the problem of others.
In this form the table effectively stresses the public, collective and communicable nature of advances on the left as opposed to the essentially private, individual and relatively uncommunicable nature of advances on the right. That on the left is essentially objective knowledge, whereas that on the right is essentially subjective. More helpful perhaps is Anthony Blake's articulation (in a private communication) in terms of extensive knowledge versus intensive knowledge. That on the left may also be associated with control frameworks whereas that on the right emphasizes an integrative experience of flux.
The challenge for society would appear to be the articulation of a form of transdisciplinarity that effectively holds the relationship between both left and right, as suggested by the middle pathway.
One of the oldest attempts to create a framework for mutually incompatible views is the classical Buddhist text on The All-Embracing Net of Views (Bhikku Bodhi, 1978). The text explicitly identifies 62 philosophical views as constituting a complete set of inappropriate or unsustainable views which together establish a larger and more appropriate framework.
More interesting approaches can be explored in relation to music, given its experiential nature (Judge, 1981, 1984). Especially valuable is that which emerges from the explorations of philosopher Antonio de Nicolas (1978) into the complementary conceptual languages of the Rg Veda that are necessary to hold the complexity of insights and experience:
'Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, we have to be aware that we are dealing with a language where tonal and arithmetical relations establish the epistemological invariances....Language grounded in music is grounded thereby on context dependency; any tone can have any possible relationship to other tones, and the shift from one tone to another, which alone makes melody possible, is a shift in perspective which the singer himself embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be 'sacrificed' for a new one to come into being; continuity, and the 'world' is the creation of the singer, who shares its dimensions with the song.
In ancient times, the infinite possibilities of the number field were considered isomorphic with the infinite possibilities of tone...Rg Veda man, like his Greek counterparts, knew himself to be the organizer of the scale, and he cherished the multitude of possibilities open to him too much to freeze himself into one dogmatic posture. His language keeps alive that 'openness' to alternatives, yet it avoids entrapment in anarchy. It also resolves the fixity of theory by setting the body of man historically moving through the freedom of musical spaces, viewpoint transpositions, reciprocities, pluralism, and finally, an absolutely radical sacrifice of all theory as a fixed invariant.' (de Nicolas, p. 57)
The philosopher W T Jones (1961) has identified a system of 7 axes of bias between 14 polarized perspectives that can be used to interrelate and predict the kinds of academic dialogue between unreconcilable positions. The work of Jones may be seen as one of a fairly limited, and much neglected, set of frameworks that endeavour to interrelate disparate cultural perspectives (Judge, 1993). This includes the work of Geert Hofstede (1984), Magoroh Maruyama (1980), and Kinhide Mushakoji (1988).
Bridging intractable differences is a concern of Donald Schon (1987), who is widely cited for his work on generative metaphor as a tool in responding to this condition, notably in relation to social policy.
The immediate practical consequences can be seen in connection with international policy-making concerning development and environment issues as featured in the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992). The challenge of creating a framework for inter-sectoral dialogue about strategic dilemmas was addressed in a background document (Judge, 1992). The arguments for a spherical configuration of categories (Judge, 1994) were presented in revised form, taking account of new material, at the European Conference of the International Society for Knowledge Organization (Bratislava, 1994) on the question of environmental knowledge organization and information management.
Of special interest in dealing with such differences are the challenges to comprehension:
What 'is' transdisciplinarity vs experiencing through a transdisciplinary 'perspective'?
Work by Arthur Young on learning/action cycles (1976) could prove useful to another approach to holding the relationship between the different forms of transdisciplinarity.
Young took as his point of departure 12 dimensionless measure formulae used in physics to describe the motion of a body or important to engineering (he worked on the development of the Bell helicopter). He related these to categories of knowing and positioned thesesequentially around the circumference of the circle in Figure 2 so as to highlight action (clockwise) and learning (anti-clockwise) cycles. Of special interest is the place he gives to categories which would normally be thought of as experiential.
Reproduced from Arthur Young The Geometry of Meaning (1976, p 49)
The attributes he associates with each of these positions have been tentatively adapted and developed in the tabular representation of Figure 3 (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/learntab.php). The value of this presentation is that there is some merit in exploring the function of the columns in holding what is understood in this paper by Transdisciplinarity-1, 2, 3, 4. This is especially interesting in that the table endeavours to relate space-binding and time-binding forms of learning which are surely fundamental to any understanding of transdisciplinarity.
The intention here is to contrast more vividly the quests of Transdisciplinarity-1 and 2. Ideally this procedure would highlight to a greater degree their respective strengths and limitations, reinforcing their complementary nature. A classic attempt is that of Two Cultures (Snow, 1969). Organizational efforts to hold the relationship are epitomized by such bodies as the World Academy of Art and Science, and even the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is questionable whether such institutionalization is matched by any adequate conceptual framework through which to interrelate such incommensurable forms.
However such complementarity is to be understood, it provides a context for the emergence of forms of transdisciplinarity between the two, as suggested by Transdisciplinarity-3 and 4. In metaphoric terms it is a kind of divine 'marriage' of the extremes, with the 'birth' of a form sharing portions of the 'genetic' material of both. This birth is a continuing process, however much it may prefigure a more concrete social programme of the (possibly distant) future. Unfortunately in practice the 'parents' tend to be far from ideal and are often extremely primitive. Each seeks to appropriate the 'child' and educate it in its own image -- even iftearing the child away from the influence of the other parent does long-term damage inhibiting development of its own identity. It is therefore difficult to dissociate the identity of any emergent form of transdisciplinarity from the programmes of Transdisciplinarity-1 and 2.
The term 'patterned experience' will be used here to signify a fundamental characteristic of Transdisciplinarity-3, and possibly 4. Note this is to be considered quite distinct from 'pattern recognition' which is concerned more with pattern matching (in which computers are increasingly skilled) than experience of the pattern (such as of an aesthetic kind). For this exercise it is useful to think of 'pattern' as the fundamental contribution of Transdisciplinarity-1, whereas 'experience' is that provided by Transdisciplinarity-2.
The experiential quality necessarily places an emphasis on subjectivity and an awareness of subjective knowing. The knower is consciously aware of the knowing process in the present moment -- as is often stressed in texts on meditation. But in the case of patterned experience this would be matched by an awareness of the patterns in what is publicly known. One metaphor to hold this relationship would have the experiencer at the centre of a hollow sphere on which the patterns of the known were articulated -- perhaps like retinal blood vessels on the inner surface of the eyeball. The world of information and objective knowledge can then be understood as compressed into a thin spherical shell configured around the experiencer. The challenge for the experiencer is how to reconfigure or organize the knowledge on the shell surface in the most qualitatively integrative manner -- irrespective of the constraints of Transdisciplinarity-1 and the seductions of Transdisciplinarity-2. This is increasingly the challenge of people exposed to the riches of Internet who seek to give experiential significance to the patterns to be found there.
Such patterned experience should be contrasted with the forms of knowing in which subjectivity is denied or repressed -- as is the case in conventional academic disciplines, in the bureaucratic world of organizational programmes and projects, and in the world of technological devices. In such contexts the integrative quality of experience is virtually absent or even 'negative' in that people's experience is moulded and manipulated by such externalities. Their experiential awareness is invaded, distorted and denatured, often deliberately. This is increasingly a major factor in political apathy and rejection of the accomplishments of the past.
At issue then is the way in which these extremes can be held. Clearly most of what is on the surface of the shell is either public domain or copyrighted (marketable) knowledge stored and communicated through information systems. However the patterning applied to it by the experiencer in the moment may be essentially unpatentable and virtually impossible to communicate or disseminate. Such spheres may be understood as constituting a universe of private worlds (whose surface features may be individually common to many spheres --but not the way in which experience of them is patterned in the moment).
As a distinct form of transdisciplinarity the experiencer must have successfully configured a knowledge sphere whilst at the same time introducing a self-reflexive experiential sense of the present moment. This condition should be contrasted with being a 'victim' of knowledge and information systems or a 'victim' of subjective experience. The experiencer then dwells within a configuration of knowledge that is not solely that of the mind. In contrast with regular knowledge, there is an experiential integration of what, where, why, when, who and how. In this condition knowledge is no longer experienced in the compressed or 'dehydrated' formcharacteristic of any explanation. In Gregory Bateson's much-cited phrase, it is a question of maintaining the 'pattern that connects' or face the loss of all quality. A sense of this distinction can be recognized in the continuing appeal of face-to-face meetings in the flesh as opposed to information exchange via (electronic) mail or video-conferences. Only dehydrated knowledge can be communicated electronically.
The experiential quality necessarily carries with it an aesthetic dimension -- perhaps even a degree of sacralization. This may range from the beauties of a sunset to those of a meaningful encounter and its dramatic moments. Music, poetry and the arts occasionally have the power to evoke and sustain such experience. The experience of the Earth from orbit is to be contrasted with any knowledgable explanation of it, however well-supported by visual aids. Explanation draws understanding out of the plane of patterned experience.
In parallel with the monetarization of interpersonal exchanges, it can be argued that there has been an objectification or reification of understanding that undermines the emergence of patterned experience.
There are many attempts to convert patterned experience into 'dehydrated' knowledge in the expectation that it may be subsequently 'rehydrated' on demand. Examples include photography and video-recording which have been so successfully commercialized. They also include the design of conceptual models and especially knowledge-bases which are increasingly subject to copyright (Judge, 1992; de Bono**). Those with a longer history include symbol-building and story-telling. In all such cases cultural products should be considered distinct from the experiential cultural perspective from which those products are generated.
Much has been claimed for the multi-media environment and its extensions into virtual reality. However it has yet to be demonstrated that these tools can support the emergence of new and more integrative levels of understanding.
As Korzybski remarked, the map is not the territory. It cannot provide the experience of the territory, although photographers often appear to claim it does. There is however the possibility that patterned experience can be sustained by construing the map as the territory (Judge, 1984). Visual displays could be used as surfaces through which to interrelate insights in new ways -- as 'morphing' techniques suggest.
The above arguments suggest that patterned experience might usefully be thought of as analogous to a biological cell, with the experiencer as the nucleus and patterned knowledge as the cell wall. This is even more interesting when there is recognition of the necessary complexity of cells structures for them to be viable. Indeed their viability is based as much on structure as on process. There are many features to cell organization that effectively mediate between nucleus and cell wall. Even the cell fluid is now recognized as being highly organized.
The value of this metaphor emerges to the extent that it becomes a vehicle for experience, namely when the experiencer can experience through such a living framework. The exercise may be rendered more challenging by introducing some equivalent to the uncertaintyprinciple. Certainty about patterned knowledge (of the cell wall) is only possible at the expense of the experiential awareness (of the nucleus) -- and vice versa.
This metaphor clearly raises questions about the nature of communication between cells.
Explanation and definition can be viewed as the process of 'dehydrating' pattern knowledge by removing the experiential dimension. Dehydrated knowledge attaches little significance to the distinction between a butterfly on a pin in a collection and a butterfly as a living entity in a transformative cycle. Similarly a live camel in a zoo is not distinguishable from one in a rich behavioral pattern in the wild (as opposed to a 'game reserve'). The same is true of house plants or pets cut out of their reproductive cycles. The most extreme examples are the cases where knowledge of individuals is defined in terms of legalistic, statistical or probabilistic realities. Is it possible for human beings to be adequately represented in information systems without reductionistic distortions?
Explanation and definition can indeed be used as very effective tools but should not be seen as a satisfactory permanent definition of reality.
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