Transdisplinarity-3 as the Emergence of Patterned Experience
Transcending duality as the conceptual equivalent of learning
to walk (Part I)
- / -
Contribution to the 1st World Congress of Transdisciplinarity
Portugal, November 1994. Abridged version published in: Jose Manuel Ferreira
Proceedings of the First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity
Hugin Editores, 1998. Also published in
Journal of the Interdisciplinary Crossroads
2, No. 2, August 2005 [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
B. RELATING THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF TRANSDISCIPLINARITY
C. PATTERNED EXPERIENCE: Distinguishing Transdisciplinarity-1
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
Transdisciplinarity-1: abstract formal integration
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
Transdisciplinarity-2: integrative experience
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'.
Transdisciplinarity-0: bridging metaphors
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
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).
Transdisciplinarity-3: metaphor as a cognitive framework
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
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.
Transdisciplinarity-4: action in the moment
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.
B. Relating the different forms of transdisciplinarity
One approach to indicating the relationship between the different forms of
transdisciplinarity is that of Figure 1.
|Transdisciplinarity-4 (Action in the moment)
|Theory of Everything (TOE) ?
||Transdisciplinarity-3 (Patterned experience)
||Transcendent personal experience ?
|Transdisciplinarity-1 (General systems, etc)
|Transdisciplinarity-2 (Integrative experience)
|Transdisciplinarity-0 (Bridging metaphors)
|Disciplines (specialized knowledge)
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.
Attempts to hold relationships between differences
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
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
'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
(a) in endeavouring to encompass greater degrees of incommensurability. There is
natural resistance to endeavouring to encompass what may be far more conveniently rejected
(b) in dealing with the manner in which a more contextual insight is perceived
with the understanding of a less contextual insight. There is a natural tendency
to reject the more contextual insight as 'too complex', 'too abstract', or 'too
subtle', or more simply as incomprehensible.
(c) in dealing with the manner in which a less contextual insight is perceived
with the understanding of a more contextual insight. There is a natural tendency
to reject the narrow perspective as being inadequate and obsolete, whereas
it may continue to perform valuable functions for many under certain conditions
(The sun continues 'to
rise', even in the language of many astrophysicists).
(d) in dealing with the manner in which different forms of transdisciplinarity are
conflated, with more subtle or less obvious forms, being appreciated through (and confused
with) those that are less subtle.
What 'is' transdisciplinarity vs experiencing through a transdisciplinary
Multi-phase learning/action cycle as a framework
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.
C. Patterned experience: Distinguishing
Transdisciplinarity-1 and 2
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.
Characteristics of patterned experience
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.
Attempts to convert pattern experience into knowledge
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.
Patterned experience as a kind of biological cell
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.
Dehydrating pattern knowledge
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
Explanation and definition can indeed be used as very effective tools but should not be
seen as a satisfactory permanent definition of reality.
Go to PART II