- / -
of comprehenisibility: a fourfold minimal container?
7. Complexification of integration
of comprehension and compehension of development
The difficulty in taking the argument further lies in the manner in which conventional notions of method are undermined beyond this point. Basically acceptable methods are associated with particular domains or groups of domains. Attempts to apply a given method to "all" domains are only possible if the method is used to pre-define many domains as "irrelevant". Methods as answers, or as aspects of an answer, are thus subject to the limitations noted earlier.
Such a conclusion is particularly unfortunate given the enthusiasm and hopefulness which is associated with advances in general systems and other frontier topics. For example, the kinds of syntheses produced by Erich Jantsch (20, 21) bring together much that appears relevant to comprehension of the breakthrough required into a more adequate approach.
Such initiatives do not however escape from the basic difficulty, namely the fundamentally unsatisfactory nature of such investigations as perceived from other domains. It is easy to understand that the more successful any such synthesis appears or claims to be, the more it will be felt to be an imposition and a constraint on initiatives by others in other domains, existing or emergent. Success is a constraint on the development of others.
Essentially the missing factor which makes such approaches of limited relevance is that they are unable to internalize the nature of their relationship to opposing methods. They are unable to handle disagreement explicitly, except through value judgements of "irrelevance". Nor are the supporters able to give any creative form to the irrational processes which then hold sway if the confrontation continues. It is within this shadowy area or blindspot that many of the most deplorable initiatives of humanity are born. The domains oppose each other governed by the same primitive territorial mind-set as was associated with the warring tribes and baronies of the past.
In an earlier paper (22), this situation was explored in the light of Paul Feyerabend's treatise "Against Method" (2), and of the concept of the dialectic method (much favoured by those who criticize the accumulation of capital). To be consistent, Feyerabend cannot of course advocate any new method, other than arguing for none or for a plurality of conflicting methods. He does however make a plea for human-scale methods which are not so abstract and complex as to be beyond the comprehension of most. With regard to the value of dialectics, the paper concluded:
"Despite the relevance of dialectics to the problem of disagreement, as noted above, it does not appear to do more than explain the dynamics of the environment it constitutes. It explains the eventual future evolution beyond the stage of disagreement, but does not clarify the nature of any possible present order whilst the disagreement holds. It does not clarify the nature of the psycho-social forms to which disagreement can give rise in the present, it merely affirms that they are necessarily temporary. The question is whether there is any pattern in the present to the ancillary processes to which a dialectical confrontation give rise." (22, p. 17)
Because of its essentially transformative emphasis, dialectics offers little for an understanding of the relationship between co-present answers, other than to predict that through ongoing struggle an answer will emerge triumphant sometime in the future. "A" struggle is however explicitly and creatively internalized, but not "the" struggle with those in disagreement with the dialectical method itself.
Unfortunately it is in the present, with a variety of mutually opposed answers that people have to live. And it is in the present that the future is born. It is there that answers compete for resources and support. It would seem important therefore to look at the "viable" patterns of disagreement between such domains of significance in the present. In particular it is important to move beyond the limitation of dialectics to a set of only two opposing theses. The earlier paper (22) took a step in this direction by producing an ordered series of 210 mutually-incompatible (opposed), transformation-oriented statements (22, Annex 2) adapted from a variety of existing multi-set integrated concept schemes (15). This was an effort to order varieties of incommensurability, which Feyerabend sees as vital to the process of development. This "order" or pattern is presumably an aspect of the "meta-answer" sought.
A related approach could be to produce a comprehensive "bibliography of answers", if only to demonstrate the scope of the challenge. The fact that this has never been done shows how "biased" the individual answers must necessarily be, and how limited their information bases. In introducing their own position, having briefly reviewed others, Samir Amin at al (12, p. 7), state:
"Nous rejetons toutes ces explications de la crise, meme si chacune d'elles n'est pas sans fondements empirique et, a la limite, pourrait constituer un element d'explication de la situation actuelle. Neanmoins, toutes cesappreciations nous paraissent jouer sur des variables aleatoires, qui ne relevent pas d'une explication synthetique et coherente de la crise, de ce qui 1'a amenee, ou de ce sur quo! elie debouchera."
Needless to say, each of the other positions would generate equivalent statements. A bibliography of answers, if appropriately organized and annotated would at least provide a kind of checklist of what kinds of answers tended to be "invisible" from a particular domain. This should also give further understanding of the nature of the meta-answer.
There seems to be a peculiar kind of inconsistency concerning attitudes towards answers. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the equal rights of individuals was affirmed as a fundamental proposition which governs much of the discourse in the world community. (Somehow society also accepts the fact that some people have more rights than others, due to their age, numbers, qualifications or other attribute.) When it comes to the answers individuals may favour, however, very few are perceived by others as having a right to exist. Although "stupid" and "intelligent" people, as well as children, all have equal rights, the answers favoured by such people do not. Every effort is made in intellectual debate to denigrate and suppress the "stupid answers" favoured by "stupid", "misguided" or "uneducated" people. But when the setting of the discussion is that of a community dialogue, or learning environments in general, an entirely different attitude is advocated. No answer is then denigrated. Each answer, however "stupid" by some standard, is recognized as a possible step or stage in a learning process. Such stages often have their historical parallels such that the past is rather effectively encoded into the range of views currently held in society.
This raises the question as to how far the world community is from recognizing that every answer has a function, especially insofar as it imposes constraints on the dominance of other answers, or constitutes a valuable developmental challenge to them. In the search for a meta-answer, it is impossible to avoid recognition of the fact that the number of people who will not be able to comprehend the emerging sophisticated insights into the world's condition is increasing at a very high rate. The "education gap" is increasing faster than any other developmental gap and cannot be treated as non-existent or on the verge of elimination. In this light, the percentage of people subscribing to answers that can be termed "wrong" is likely to be very high (if it is not necessarily already 100%).
It is naive to expect that "wrong-thinking" can be eliminated from a developing, multi-generational world community (although such a view has a valid role to play). Somehow the required meta-answer must accord recognition to the psycho-social structures and processes corresponding both to different information bases and to different interpretations of them. The assumption that any view (including this one) is unquestionably "right" is a significant constraint on the development process (although as such it too has a role to play). In fact any exchange of information is part of a ceaseless effort to counteract "wrong thinking". It is difficult to imagine that information exchange would cease in an ideal society.
To avoid creating the impression that this amounts to pluralist relativism, it is necessary to clarify some constraints which counteract such a condition before taking the argument a step further. Ranges of possible constraints have been explored in an earlier paper (22). At this point it is appropriate to list the following:
In the earlier paper (22) it was argued that statements about a meta-answer could best be formulated as an open-ended ordered series of mutually-incompatible, transformation-oriented propositions of which 210 were outlined in 20 sets. A measure of self-reflexiveness is built into them but is most evident in the earlier sets. The statements are formulated in sets based on the number of elements by which it is hoped to "contain" the description of the complexity of an adequate meta-answer. The first two sets, containing respectively one and two elements, are:
1. Inadequacy of formulations: No single formulation (including this one), nor any logically integrated set of formulations, adequately encompasses the nature of the development process. Every position or formulation is therefore suspect. When it is formulated within a domain of unquestioned consensus, this potential doubt is inactive, thus establishing a boundary of uncritical discourse which inhibits development. 2. Opposition/Disagreement: New initiatives, including this one, are formulated by taking and establishing a particular position in opposition to whatever is conceived as potentially denying it. The nature of the initiative is partly determined by the way in which the challenge or initial absence of any opposing position is perceived and the possible nature of the response. It is the immediacy with which the challenge is perceived that empowers the initiative.
The taking of a position as a result of a new initiative engenders or activates a formulation which is its denial. Every formulation is therefore necessarily matched by an initiative which is incompatible with it, or opposed to it, or takes an essentially different direction from it. This opposition is fundamentally unmediated and as such cannot be observed or described. It can only be comprehended through identification with one of the opposed positions.
The tentative titles used to indicate the qualitative characteristics of the other sets formulated are:
3. Dialectic synthesis 4. Development interaction 5. Constraints on existence 6. Coherence through renewal 7. Modes of change 8. Constraints on change 9. Implementation of a transformation process 10. Endurance of a form 11. Empowerment and importance of a form 12. Harmoniously transformative controlled relationship 13. Creative renewal 14. Cycle of development processes 15. Construction and development of form 16. Values and assumptions 17. Relationship potential of a form 18. Inadequate transformation attempts 19. Qualitative transformation 20. Significance of mutually constraining forms
In effect such sets attempt to clarify the kinds of significance domain perceptible under different conditions of observation whilst at the same time challenging the nature of the formulation and of the observation process. In a sense the ordered sets establish the necessity of the fragmentation of answers into domains.
In moving beyond pluralistic relativism, what is required is some appropriate pattern whereby answer domains can be interrelated. The number-pattern of sets outlined in the previous section is one approach to this.
Another approach is to develop a suitable classification scheme for answer domains which goes beyond the limitation of conventional matrix-type schemes (24, pp. 291-294) and the kinds of criticism to which classification is subject (25, 26). The feasibility of this has been explored in earlier papers (24, 27) and is the basis for an ongoing experiment in the classification of the 15,000 international organizations listed in the Yearbook of International Organizations (28). The intention is to highlight patterns of integrative relationships between international activities and problems in order to provide more coherent overviews of the world community of organizations in all its detailed variety.
In the terms of anthropologist Gregory Bateson (29, pp. 8-11), what is sought is an approach beyond pluralism to the "pattern that connects". Erich Dantsch points out however that:
"The cultural pluralism...which is about to replace the era of uniform, committing guiding images, may be interpreted as a suspension of historical time....More surprising to many comes the conceptual pluralism of modern science. The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics "function" inside domains of observations, but all attempts to mould them into a unified paradigm have failed so far." (21, p. 303)
But he then continues:
"The pluralism of more recent concepts, especially in the physics of subnuclear particles, makes some physicists already speak of an "ecology of models" which cannot be fused to a unified model, not because we lack the necessary knowledge, but as a matter of principle." (21, p. 303)
The properties of the required meta-answer lie in the nature of such an "ecology" which does have a special form of organization. Jantsch then makes the point:
"Let us remember that the evolution of dissipative structures, too, can be described only by simultaneously employing two complementary models, a macroscopic-deterministic and a microscopic-stochastic one. And the co-evolution of macro- and microcosmos may only be grasped in the synopsis of complementary approaches. As a matter of principle, the autopoietic levels in a multilevel dynamic reality which have become separated by symmetry breaks cannot be united in a super-model, but only by way of describing the web of relations between them." (21, p. 303)
He then cites Ilya Prigogine who investigated such dissipative structures:
"The world is far too rich to be expressed in a single language....Music does not exhaust itself in a sequence of styles. Equally, the essential aspects of our experience can never be condensed into a single description. We have to use many descriptions which are irreducible to each other, but which are connected by precise rules of translation (technically called 'transformation')- Scientific work consists of selective exploration and not of the discovery of a given reality. It consists of the choice of questions which have to be posed." (21, p. 303)
The challenge is to discover the pattern of such "transformations" and to avoid the traps of current satisfaction with only providing "micro-answers" to "micro-questions". Such answers are of course essential, but they are not enough at this time.
There does seem to be a special existential challenge to the relationship between the "pattern that connects" and acceptance of action in terms of a specific micro-answer. This challenge is associated with the "sacrifice" of generality of perspective in order to achieve concrete relevance and comprehensibility. Ironically the nature of this existential sacrifice has been explored in analyses of Rig Vedic philosophy as partly encoded in music and dance (30, 31). These analyses, which reflect Prigogine's above remarks on music, are explicitly linked to investigations of the significance of quantum theory for new understanding of changing classificatory frameworks (32, 33; see also 7) and the network of links between such frameworks conceived as "languages". The relationship of these concerns to "integration" has been explored in an earlier paper (34).
Another approach which provides valuable insights in delineating a meta-answer is that of Christopher Alexander on design and planning processes. Of special significance is his stress on the democratization of any design process, especially in a complex institutional setting. He clarifies the process of elaborating an open-ended "pattern language" (35) consisting at the moment of some 250 sub-patterns. These can be combined in different ways by users to form their own unique languages. Clearly a similar approach could be used to elaborate a set of psycho-social patterns with which users could elaborate languages to design alternative institutions, communities and lifestyles.
A major strength of Alexander's pattern language is that it is a deliberate attempt to provide a means of giving form to that core quality which makes life meaningful and a delight to live. He very carefully shows how this must necessarily be "defined" as a "quality without a name" (36). It is only partially expressed through each of the words bandied about in social policy-making discussions. (This recalls the preoccupations of Jantsch and Prigogine noted above.) In his view the quality can only be adequately captured or "contained" by use of a pattern language. There is obviously a case for applying this approach to contain the subtleties of human and social development. By seeking to give form to this core quality through a user-oriented language, Alexander effectively joins Attali (5), whose position was introduced earlier. Attali however introduces a vital additional element through his stress on the management of contradictions and violence. His three forms of truth correspond to three ways of ordering society:
"La premiere representation (capitaliste) decrit 1'economie comme une mecanique. Son objet est 1'etude de la regulation....Une deuxieme representation (marxiste) regroupe les discours qui decrivent la societe comme une production du travail des hommes" (5, p. 17)
The second corresponds to the argument here generalizing accumulation to non-material features of the "discours". Although Attali argues that Wallerstein's (9, 10, 11) analysis is itself of more general significance than for the marxist paradigm within which he writes:
"...il ouvre, au-dela de la regulation et de la production, a 1'analyse la plus totale du processus economique, celle de 1'organisation ouverte sur le monde naturel, 1'ecosysteme et la biosphere." (5, p. 154)
With respect to his third order, Attali then continues:
"Mais le monde ne se resume ni a i'echange ni a la production, le sens ne se reduit ni au prix ni a la valeur des objets, Le monde engendre ses propres structures ailleurs que dans la seule production materielle. II faut aussi penser le monde comme organisation du sens. Et la crise comme rupture du sens dans 1'organisation, qui nait des divergences dans 1'ordre, des parasites de la communication, bruits du marche, voleurs de valeur, bruits du monde. L'ordre est alors gestion de la violence, la crise retour de la violence, selon une succession que 1'histoire seule nous designe." (5, p. 18)
The capitalist and marxist world orders are thus, according to Attali, each incapable of avoiding aspects of the organizational problem:
"Toute politique recommendee par le premier Monde aggrave les problemes que devoile le second, et reciproquement. L'un et 1'autre n'en sont pas moins confrontes a une meme double difficulte. D'une part, la circulation du sens (le prix ou le travail) peut etre parasitee (par la monnaie ou la classe capitaliste). D'autre part, ce parasitage a surtout lieu quand il s'agit d'arbitrer entre ce qui doit servir a ameliorer les moyens de produire et ce qui doit servir a ameliorer les moyens de consommer." (5, p. 154)
As indicated earlier, Attali's argument converges on the importance of a new understanding of language as a way of containing and managing the violence inherent in the crisis of the development process:
"Telle est la nouvelle metaphore majeure: la crise commence avec les dechirures, avec la remise en cause d'une forme par 1'auteur, ou par d'autres. Elle se termine avec 1'achevement de la reecriture. Elle est done, dans le temps, 1'etat le plus probable, et 1'apres-crise la forme passagere, le moment instable ou s'interrompt la remise en cause du monde.
Mais pourquoi une forme? Quel en est le sens? Quand s'acheve la reecriture? Qui en est 1'auteur? Pour repondre a toutes ces questions, il faut renoncer a 1'ambition totalisante que portent les metaphores de la mecanique et de la machine. Elies n'ont produit, jusqu'ici, que des theories incompletes, incapables d'expliquer la complexite des formes sociales. Elle ne peuvent rien dire des desirs qui meuvent les hommes etles foules, ni des comportements irrationnels ou inutiles, ni des significations des objets et des echanges, ni des raisons de 1'apparition successive de telles ou telles innovations.
Pour forcer le réel a entrer dans leur cadre, elles sont même obligées d'ériger en sciences la mathématique pure et la force abstraite, c'est-à-dire deux négations du sens de la parole. Pourtant, il n'est de science humaine que du sens, c'est-à-dire, en dernière analyse, du langage. Et il ne sera d'histoire sensée au monde qu'une histoire des langues." (5, p. 159-160)
His main hypothesis regarding the third order is that language structures order and that people and objects are only valued in terms of their capacity to participate in the circulation of messages which give a meaning to social organizations. But the only meaning for any group lies in its survival, which is only threatened by violence. All its efforts are directed via language to avoid or eliminate such violence. (5, p. 60}
"Il y a ordre tant qu'une langue, comprise par les membres du groupe, peut conjurer la menace de violence. Le non-sens, ou la crise, commencent quand un parasite vient rompre la communication pacificatrice...Or, une langue n'est réellement efficace contre la violence que par son ambiguite: aussi n'existe-t-il d'ordre que dans la diversité et la multiplicité. Telle est la preuve absolue de la naivete des deux premiers Mondes: la régulation et la production se veulent, en effet, deux façons de donner sens a ce qui est, mais des sens non ambigus, donc incomplets. Dans l'un, comme dans l'autre, en effet, l'ordre est communication, et la crise rupture du sens, provoquée par un parasite qui interrompt la conversation, fausse le sens des mots de la langue." (5, p. 160)
For Attali, the reality of the languages which effectively structure societies is much more complex than that of the first two orders. The route forward then lies through an "aesthetic" approach to the world:
Alors, une nouvelle forme peut agencer l'infinité des créations de l'homme par l'homme, l'infinité des langues encore a inventer. Alors, la dérision du temps donne a l'action une nouvelle force: il ne s'agit plus, pour changer le monde, de le dominer, ni de le raisonner, mais de le séduire." (5, p. 259)
Everything produced then enters a process which, by circulation and the meaning given to what is produced, prevents the proliferation of violence, transforming the production of violence into the production of meaning (5, p. 168). This would give rise to a "non-violent polyorder" in which the struggle "ne passe plus ni par la force, ni par la raison, masques de la violence, mais par la seduction des formes, la subversion des objets" (5, p. 297).
This view emerges from Attali's carefully documented study of the significance of the exchange process as the "circulation of the life" of a community (5, p. 179):
"Produire des objets, c'est produire de la vie, qui doit, tout de suite, être nommée, cataloguée, différenciée. Consommer un objet, c'est en recevoir les forces, c'est en assimiler la violence contenue et, en même temps, exercer sa propre violence en tuant l'objet en lutte - pour réussir une ascension sociale. Echanger des objets, c'est faire circuler de la violence potentielle et égaliser les hommes, supprimer des différences: ce qui est formidablement dangereux.
Puisqu'on ne peut empêcher la violence, pour survivre, il faut la neutraliser. certain objets doivent être les polarisateurs majeurs, dont la consommation est sacrifice du bouc émissaire. C'est le cas de la consommation des chefs lors des potlatch, qui détruisent et polarisent la violence dans la dépense de surplus. Elle indique qui est le chef: celui qui peut polariser la violence. L'échange est un lieu ou un objet doit être décharge en partie de sa violence, être "tue" et recrée, pour pouvoir ensuite être échange, sans égaliser ni indifferencier les forces du vendeur et de l'acheteur. En résume, pour qu'un Ordre existe, il faut y créer en permanence des différences. Produire, c'est augmenter les différences; consommer et échanger, c'est les annuler....
Ce sens de l'ordre n'est pas connu de ceux qui y vivent. Il est véhicule par la langue; les hommes n'en sont que les marionnettes et leur liberté se résume au droit de certains, les chefs du rituel, de créer des mots. Alors, lire l'Ordre, c'est lire les pratiques quotidiennes de production et d'échange, dans les mythes, les chants, les danses, mais aussi, et surtout, dans les fêtes ou sacrifices, dans les sens donne a la chasse, aux récoltes, au lavage du linge, au tissage, a la poterie, au commerce, au transport." (5, p. 175-6)
Objects thus always remain the magical property of the producer, a living incarnation of his force and reality. Exchanging them suppresses this difference recreating violence. The exchange is thus never equal, or else there would be no interest in the exchange. The idea of balance or equivalence in exchange, as it is accepted in the first two worlds, effectively assumes the death of objects (5, p. 179). Any such similarity creates violence which difference averts and directs towards the exterior, polarized onto a suitable scapegoat (5, p. 16).
Although the first two "worlds" with their corresponding "orders" and "networks" (production of offer, production of demand), create the third (based on the exchange process), the difficulty is that such processes are not "containable" within any particular organization which could be designed by either of the first two orders in terms of their forms of "truth":
"...les organisations n'ont ni fonctionnement universel ni utilité conflictuelle. D'une part, chacune a sa langue spécifique, maigre les universaux qu'elle contient. D'autre part, aucun ordre n'est réductible a son utilité pour un groupe." (5, p. 187)
Attali therefore advocates the elaboration of a theory (in effect a "meta-answer"), in terms of his third form of truth, to give a meaning to forms and discontinuities. He sees this as:
"un pari sur l'existence d'une adéquation entre la structure d'un esprit humain et celle du monde. Elle n'est, des lors, vraie que si elle lui semble belle, si elle lui procure une jubilation intérieure par la perception de la potentialité infinie de toute oeuvre humaine. Elle est vraie comme l'est une oeuvre d'art, dont elle utilise d'ailleurs la métaphore: un Ordre est comme une écriture et une crise comme une déchirure." (5, p. 187-188)
It is interesting that Attali has a major post in the current French government, because it is not clear how it might be possible to develop this position in practice. The same problem of determing what forms of organization would be appropriate for the future is left unresolved by the tantalizing images of Alvin Toffler's "Third Wave" (37). As reviewed in an earlier paper (22), Feyerabend (2), as a methodological anarchist, also finds it unnecessary to envisage any new organizational form appropriate to the methodological anarchism he considers necessary to scientific advance. But such processes are unlikely to be appropriately engendered unless they are matched by complementary structures to "contain" them.
The question of "containers" and "containment" calls for a better understanding of the function of the observer called upon to respond to the elements of any duality (for which he may also be conceptually responsible).
As Ilya Prigogine notes: "There is always the temptation to try to describe the physical world as if we were not part of it." (39, j. 44). This is even more true of the social world and for most researchers on human and social development. It corresponds to the classical Galilean view of science in which an attempt is made to see phenomena "from the outside as an object of analysis to which we do not belong. But we have reached the limit of this Galilean view." (39) To progress further, we must have a better understanding of our description of the physical universe. This does not mean that we must revert to a subjectivistic view of science, but in a sense we must relate knowing to characteristic features of life." (39, p. xv)
This breakthrough in perspective was triggered by Einstein's work on relativity and the constraints on communication between observers within different frames of reference moving with respect to each other. By invoking the active role of the observer, the nature and limitations of measurement processes are clarified. For Prigogine "The incorporation of the limitation of our way of acting on nature has been an essential element of progress." (39, p. 214) It is somewhat extraordinary that no equivalent to relativity theory is available to remedy the flabby weaknesses of "relativistic" perspectives in the social sciences which justify the lack of attention accorded to them.
Introducing the active role of the observer enriched physical science with the concept of complementarity which, as with relativity, has no central role in the social sciences. Prigogine clarifies the concept by the musical analogy noted above:
"...the world is richer than it is possible to express in any single language. Music is not exhausted by its successive stylizations from Bach to Schoenberg. Similarly, we cannot condense into a single description the various aspects of our experience." (39, p. 51)
In this sense particular descriptions ("answers") do not become wrong, even though each may be considered fundamental; rather they correspond to idealizations that extend beyond the conceptual possibilities of observation (39, xviii). But as idealizations they each lack essential elements and cannot be studied in isolation (39, p. 212) This is equally true for the extremes of micro and macro description of human and social development.
The main thesis of Prigogine is associated with the constructive reality of irreversible processes which appear as particularly coherent on the biological level. Irreversibility emerges once the basic concepts of the extreme idealizations cease to be observables. It is inseparable from measurement. It corresponds to the embedding of the micro perspective within a vaster formalism which permits a non-reductionist transformation to coordinate various levels of description (12, p. xiii-xiv). Irreversibility is then a manifestation on a macroscopic scale of "randomness" on a microscopic scale (12, p. 176). It is the modern theory of bifurcations and instabilities which provides a bridge between the micro and macro levels of description, as well as between the geometrical world of physical descriptions and the organized, functional world characteristics of biological and social systems. It is this bridge which is Prigogine's "third" perspective (39, p. 56 and p. 196).
Before considering the possible nature of such "containers", the work of Prigogine on "order through fluctuation" (38, 39) must be examined, especially in the light of Jantsch's efforts to establish its relevance to the self-organizing sociocultural systems central to human and social development.
(a) Non-equilibrium structures
Prigogine obtained the Nobel Prize in 1977 for his investigation of non-equilibrium systems which, in the words of the Nobel Committee, "created theories to bridge the gap between biological and social scientific fields of enquiry". It is evident that the world system is far from being in an equilibrium state or even near it. As Holling notes, for example: "An equilibrium-centred view is essentially static and provides little insight into the transient behaviour of systems that are not near the equilibrium....The present concerns for pollution and endangered species are specific signals that the well-being of the world is not adequately described by concentrating on equilibria or conditions near them." (20, p.73)
Unfortunately the tendency has been to focus on equilibrium research and, in the case of social systems, on visions of desirable societies formulated in equilibrium terms as "peaceful" Utopian end states. This is only realistic when dealing with closed systems exchanging nothing with whatever can be described as an "external" environment. As Jantsch notes "Equilibrium is the equivalent of stagnation or death" (21, p. 10). In the more realistic case of open systems, it is the high degree of non-equilibrium due to the presence of such exchanges which can maintain self-organizing processes that give rise to "dissipative" (non-equilibrium) structures.
Dissipative structures are associated with an entirely different ordering principle called "order through fluctuation". Such structures can in effect arise from the amplification of fluctuations resulting from instabilities which, in the case of the world system, for example, are perceived as the curse of orderly planetary policy-making and global programme management. Open systems in a state of sufficient non-equilibrium endeavour to maintain their capability for exchange with the environment by switching to a new dynamic regime whenever entropy production becomes stifled in the old regime.
Order may therefore increase, and the response to fluctuations is the less random the more degrees of freedom the system has (20, p. 38-39). Fluctuations on a sufficiently small scale are always damped by the medium. Conversely, once a fluctuation attains a size beyond a critical dimension, it triggers an instability (20, p. 119). There is no longer a consistent macroscopic description (39, p. 141), In the formation of dissipative structures, it is the fluctuations that drive the system to a new average macroscopic state with a different spatio-temporal structure. Instead of being simply a corrective element, the fluctuations become the essential element in the dynamics of such systems (20, pp. 93-96). Dissipative structures can therefore be considered as giant fluctuations whose evolution over time contains an essentially stochastic element (20, p. 93). Fluctuations play this critical role in macroscopic systems in the neighbourhood of bifurcations where the system has to "choose" between alternatives (39, p. 132). Given the situation of the world-system in the face of such alternatives, Prigogine's work merits careful attention.
(c) Unexpected global relations
Prigogine argues that dissipative structures present precisely the global aspect, the aspect of totality, which has been ascribed to the object of the synthetic sciences, including sociology (20, p. 95). This macro view is Important both in the temporal (historical) sense as well as in the usual spatial (structural) sense. As Jantsch notes:
"In a nonequllibriurn world of self-realizing, self-balancing systems, process and structure become complementary aspects of the same overall order of process, or evolution. As interacting processes define temporary structures - comparable to standing wave patterns in physics - so structures define new processes, which in turn give rise to new temporary structures. Where process carries the momentum of energy unfoldment, structure permits the focusing and acting out of energy. Only a macro view is capable of providing a perspective of history, or evolution of space-time structures; our current microscopic paradigms (e.g., quantum mechanics) do not deal with space-time coincidences." (20, p. 39)
Dissipative structures are very sensitive to global and historical characteristics that influence in a decisive way the type of instabilities by which the structures are engendered. For example, the occurrence of dissipative structures generally requires that the system's size exceed some critical value - a complex function of the parameters describing the interaction-diffusion process. Far from equilibrium, therefore, an essentially unexpected relation exists between the dynamics and the space-time structure of such systems. Instabilities near the critical point involve long-range order through which the system acts as a whole in spite of the short-range character of the interactions (39, pp. 103-4). The distribution of interactants is no longer random (39, p. 132). Chaos gives rise to order (39, p. 142), a phenomenon explored by Atlan (17). The oscillation frequency now becomes a well-defined function of the state of the whole system. Any instability then develops over time the periodicity of the limit cycles of fluctuation (39, p. 99). The determining importance of these global and historical dimensions recalls the preconditions for an adequate world-system type analysis (9).
(d) Complementary linkages
In order to be able to take form from instability, a dissipative structure requires a non-linear mechanism to function. It is this mechanism which is responsible for the instability amplification mechanism of the fluctuation. Dissipative structures thus form a bridge between function and structure (20, pp. 95, 39, p. 100) as portrayed by the following triad:
Determinism and fluctuation then play a complementary role in any description. In Jantsch's words, as applied to social systems:
"Process (or function) and structure, deterministic and stochastic features, necessity and chance (or free will), become complementary aspects in the self-organizing dynamics of "order through fluctuation" which may also be graphically depicted as a nonequilibrium system "stumbling forward" and crossing by its own force the ridges separating "valleys" of global stability". (20, p. 72)
Jantsch sees this essentially dualistic description as itself complemented by Rene Thorn's topological model seen as constituting the first rigorously formulated monistic model of life. Here instabilities (catastrophes) are responsible for mutations such that the deterministic and finalistic aspects are understood as complementary links in a temporal feedback cycle. Causality and finality become expressions of a pure topological continuity of self-balancing processes, viewed from opposite directions (40, p.41). In commenting on Abraham's (165) application of Thorn's work, Jantsch notes:
"A complementary approach, the theory of catastrophe..., focuses on the existence of multiple globally stable regimes (called macrons, and equivalent to dissipative structures) and the transitions (catastrophes) between them. Macrons are, at the present stage of the theory, represented by mathematical descriptions of their equilibrium state (attractors). Therefore, catastrophes appear as sudden quantum jumps, as if due to "pushes" by an outside force, comparable to a golf ball being propelled over a ridge by a single stroke. What is of central interest in this approach, is the landscape of new forms, the "epigenetic landscape", beyond the ridge." (20, p. 72)
Such a landscape is of special interest in perceiving the relationship between "answers". Each answer is then a macron (attractant) which determines the flow of attention. Answer domains are thus separated by "ridges", which prevent the effective flow of information from (or to) neighbouring "valleys". (The focus and preoccupation of other valleys is considered "irrelevant".) Answers can then be usefully seen as distributed over the landscape such as to ensure the most economic distribution of attention, or psycho-social tension, in a social system.
(e) Autopoiesis or organizational self-renewal
The basic conditions for the dynamic existence of non-equilibrium structures are therefore:
The dynamics of such a globally stable, but never resting structure has been called "autopoiesis" (12), namely self-renewal regulated in such a way that the integrity of the structure is maintained. It is typical of biological and social organization. According to Jantsch: "Autopoiesis is an expression of the fundamental complementarity of structure and function, that flexibility and plasticity due to dynamic relations, through which self-organization becomes possible." (21, p. 10) According to Zeleny and Pierre:
"Autopoietic organization can be defined as a network of interrelated component-producing processes such that the components, through their interaction, generate recursively the same network of processes which produced them and thus realize the network of processes as an identifiable unity in the space in which the components exist. The product of an autopoietic system is necessarily always the system itself, its organization being continuously realized under permanent turnover of matter and energy." (20, p. 150)
Whereas: "Allopoietic organization, in contrast, can be defined as a network of interrelated component-producing processes such that it does not produce the components and processes which realize it as a unity." (20, p. 150)
Non-equilibirum systems evolve or develop through a sequence of autopoietic structures driven by the internal reinforcement of fluctuations (namely autocatalysis), eventually breaking through critical thresholds, as noted above. For Jantsch:
"In other words, the principle of creative individuality wins over the collective principle in this innovative phase. The collective will always try to damp the fluctuation and depending on the coupling of the subsystems, the life of the old structure may thereby be considerably prolonged. In the phase in which a new structure comes into being, the principle of maximum entropy production holds - no expenses are spared if the issue is the build-up of a new structure. However, it is not predetermined which structure will come into being. At each level of autopoietic existence, a new version of macroscopic indeterminacy comes into play. The future evolution of such a system cannot be predicted in an absolute way; it resembles a decision tree with truly free decision at each branching point. However, already at the level of chemical dissipative structures, such a system keeps the memory of its evolutionary path. If it is forced back, it retreats by the same way it has come through a sequence of autopoietic structures." (21, p. 11)
It would seem that there is much to be learnt from this perspective with reference to human and social development. In Jantsch's words again:
"...human systems with all their tangible and intangible aspects might then perhaps be regarded as dissipative structures, arising from the interaction of strong and highly nonequilibrium flows of ideas and actions. Their spatial organization would then be the result of processes of self-organization, or in other words the forms of periodicity built into human systems. This organization would be physical as well as psychic. Indeed, the borderline between both becomes blurred in the light of the emerging insight that information itself may have a self-organizing capacity, that a seed of information may engender more information and thus more order." (40, p. 60)
The self-renewal of the autopoietic system is achieved, in the words of Zeleny and Pierre, "through a series of oscillations between rupture and closure. Its very existence as an autopoietic system is based on this rhythmical opening and closing....We might preferably talk of pulsating systems, since neither permanently closed nor permanently open systems are autopoietic; they are not 'alive'." (20, p. 153)
The theory of opening and closing in relation to social systems has been explored by Orrin Klapp (41), to whom Zeleny and Pierre refer. Klapp argues that opening to variety, whether for learning, progress, evolution, or control, has been over-emphasized to the point of bias. Because of this modern society has wandered into a crisis of social noise and failure of resonance, thus impairing communication and making it harder to find meaning. He interprets a variety of psycho-social phenomena according to the theory that individuals and societies normally open and close to information and communication. Opening is scanning for desired information and the new, whereas closing is a natural response to too much unuseable information, broadly conceived as social noise. Opening and closing are therefore part of a shifting optimization strategy of living systems to get the most of the best information and the least of the worst noise:
"From such things, we see that what we call aliveness - resilience, adaptability - is not continual intake, nor any constant policy, but sensitive alternation of openness and closure. The mind listens alertly, then turns off to signals. The natural pattern is alternation, and the more alive a system is, the more alertly it opens and closes. In such a view, closing is not, as some suppose, merely a setback to growth and progress, but evidence that the mechanisms of life are working, that the society has resiliency...A perpetually open society would suffer the fate of a perpetually open clam." (41, p. 15)
Openness or closedness is not a fixed policy or strucutral characteristic but a changuing life strategy of organism and groups. Communication fluctuates in cycles requiring sensitive alternation (41, p. 16).
The 'conventional' bias in favour of openness, the more information the better, has been reinforced in recent years by liberal theorists pleading for open-mindedness (Rokeach, 42) or an open society (Popper 43). More recently this view underlies the Club of Rome report on "No Limits to Learning" (44). The view is challenged by the extensive evidence on information overload on the one hand, and by what Klapp calls "spasms of closing among ethnic, religious, and other groups", from which academic and other specialization should not be dissociated.
"When a lot of people feel too much entropy as a crisis to collective identity, they close to protect the net, exclude noise, intensify signals affirming common values, and perhaps define more clearly an enemy." (41, p. 16)
Klapp argues that if all societies are naturally subject to cycles of openness and closure, some revisions in current assumptions about progress and the "free market of information" may be necessary. He asks whether it is possible to get too much of a good thing, when system theorists recognize that unlimited increase of anything good is not better, and no living system takes an unlimited input of anything. Is information exempt from this, or is it also subject to overloads and entropic effects comparable with overproduction in economic markets and polluting side effects of growth? If closing is as necessary to human systems as opening then they should be placed on a par, rather than being presented as "bad" and "good" respectively.
In amending the open society model, Klapp cautions against a purely mechanical interpretation of the advocated oscillation between relative openness and closedness. There are inherent risks in either strategy: "Scanning for news, discovery, or growth runs the risk of excessive noise and other costs of bad opening; closing for redundancy, memory, reinforcement, or cohesion risks narrowness, ignorance, and stifling banality." (41, p. 20)
He therefore distinguishes moves in an information game corresponding to bad opening, good opening, bad closing, and good closing (41, p. 1 9). Furthermore, what are conventionally called "open" societies close in different ways from "closed" societies, and at different points on a range, one end of which might be an authoritarian system allergic to small increases of information, and the other an ideal liberal society with a progress ideology emphasizing the modern and devaluing the old - hence vulnerable to crisis from information overload and loss of redundancy. (41, p. 12)
These considerations suggest that the "container" for answers should embody characteristics which ensure that it "opens" and "closes" in some way. (This is not an unusual requirement for containers which are to be of practical value.)
Prigogine, Jantsch, Attali and, in effect, Feyerabend conclude that it is necessarily impossible, if not anti-developmental, to define an organized, rational structure to bridge across discontinuity. The only "solution" being to adapt more spontaneously or aesthetically to the processes in relation to discontinuity (4). In effect what is being said is that, even in mathematical terms, it is impossible to discover a space whose form (a "meta-answer") validates every argument ("answer"). In Bateson's terms: "The question is onto what surface shall a theory of aesthetics be mapped....a map of the region where angels fear to tread" (29, pp. 210-21 4). But even if such a form could be discovered, it would presumably be too abstract to be of any value in society.
The difficulty is one of handling essentially incompatible answers which cannot co-exist passively (e.g. "science" and "religion"; "industry" and "environment"). In order to be hospitable to the discontinuities they represent, it would be necessary to somehow encompass or "contain" the non-rational character of the disagreement between them (22). This implies a distinctly non-linear relationship between them. The most accessible indication of the possible nature of such a relationship is that between right- and left-hemisphere modes of thinking (40), and the essential difficulty of integrating the perceptions to which they give rise. The functional "solution" in daily life is an oscillation between the two modes according to the task to be performed. Integration, namely the meta-answer, is here represented by the pattern of oscillation between the distinct modes.
The question is whether this is relevant to the wide range of answer domains and the modes of action/perception they represent. In an earlier paper (34), it was argued that this was at least a fruitful area of exploration. In another (27), it was used as a basis for an experimental ordering of the range of preoccupations of international organizations in a "chequer board" matrix classification scheme based on right and left-hemisphere modes. Such a classification scheme (criticized below) is a minimal pattern of interrelationship (namely a "container") between answer domains, reflecting the discontinuities between them. This suggests, as stated there, that the present pursuit of "alternative models" may be proceeding in an unfruitful direction:
"The point is not simply to discover some magical alternative model of value to development but of limited appeal. It is rather to discover "models of alternation" (or oscillation) to contain the development process in relation to different alternatives which may be periodically adopted. Institutions could useful consider the value of an alternation policy (e.g. centralization/decentralization), rather than having it forcefully imposed upon them periodically by their environment or pursuing a schizophrenic policy using departments with alternative approaches which are impossible to reconcile. Each alternative becomes a boundary condition. The challenge is to use a configuration of such alternative models in such a way as to constitute a "container" for the development process." (27, p. 35)
The fact that social conditions are very much subject to cycles (e.g. Kondratieff), and that policy "breakthroughs" (such as centralization or decentralization) are periodically rediscovered with enthusiasm, suggests that alternation should be explored as a cyclic phenomenon. In fact, as any physical model will illustrate, a pattern of oscillation is not stable unless it is accompanied by some form of revolution of which the observed alternation is often a consequence (e.g. night/day on the revolving Earth; seasons on the Earth revolving around the Sun). Control of the "revolutionary process" is absolutely basic to the generation and use of electrical and other forms of energy (e.g. generators and motors).
Cyclic processes are also characteristic of many biological phenomena (e.g. respiration, reproduction, metabolic cycles). They are also evident in many socio-cultural phenomena (45), not to mention various symbolic and mythological cycles. But in the non-physical cases, humanity has gained little effective control of the revolutionary process. In fact the significance of social "revolution" is limited to the superficialities of discontinuity which are thus reinforced.
It has proved difficult to give operational content of any value to the non-disruptive dimensions of the "permanent revolution" advocated by marxists. This may well be due to the fact that it does not involve cyclic alternation between incompatible modes, because of the emphasis on an essentially linear series of dialectically superseded modes. Such linearity is a Western cultural concept of change which is not married to the valuable Eastern insight into change as recurrence. In metaphorical terms the marxist stress is on the struggle of abandoning "winter now" for "spring tomorrow" without any additional recognition of the revolutionary process whereby a new "winter" (with similar characteristics) will necessarily be encountered (or brought about) or of the importance of the ecological role of "winter" in a cycle. If there is any significance to the importance of the revolution-based design of generators for the industrial revolution, there should be some insights of relevance to the current problem of designing a meta-answer to the present socio-cultural condition. In fact, in Attali's terms (5), such physical designs may well have prefigured the socio-cultural design problem of the present.
Designs appropriate to Attali's "third world" or Toffler's "third wave" could seemingly only emerge following recognition of the validity of a "third perspective". Integrated comprehension of the revolutionary cycle is only possible through a conceptual relationship to the axis that stabilizes perception of the cyclic processes with reference to it. Without this third perspective, the revolutionary cycle can only be confusedly comprehended as a linear process in one or two dimensions. It is in terms of this third dimension that the required meta-answer designs may well be possible.
Humanity does not function in terms of one mode alone, just as it is difficult to hop (or limp) forward on one foot - although this may well be what history will see as characteristics of this period. The "struggle" between two feet is avoided by a third "walking" perspective. Switching metaphors, it is as though the vehicle conveying humanity forward had the spokesmen of antagonistic groups struggling on the driver's seat for control of the steering wheel.
Those closest to the left-hand window (and the abyss on that side) shout "turn right", and those on the right-hand side (seeing the abyss there) shout "turn left". Luckily the vehicle has so far remained on the road because their over-corrections counter-balance each other. A more balanced third perspective is required to allow the vehicle to follow a road with both left and right-hand curves and abysses on either side (not to mention on-coming traffic).
Oscar Ichazo, founder of an internationally-active human development institute, formulates an interesting progression in the interpretation of the basic laws of logic. These are in sympathy with the arguments of the previous sections. The points he makes (146) can best be summarized by a table of the following kind:
|____||Logic of change||Logic of the whole|
|1. Law of identity
A = A
|Quantity transformedinto qualitative change||Developmental stages: pre-established points at which step change occurs (law of mutation)|
|2. Law of contradiction
A = B
|Everything works in opposition to something else (law of opposition)||Everything is the seed of its contrary, both elements contributing to each other in a cycle (law of circulation)|
|3. Law of excluded middle
A = A + B
|Every process must deny itself if it is to continue; negation of negation||
Everything attracted to either expansion or contraction (law of resonance)
Ichazo sees the dialectical reinterpretation of the Aristotelian version as having been the basic logic of the industrial revolution. He gives arguments from physics and biology for the need for the trialectic interpretation to explain developmental changes of a whole. The cyclic "resolution" of contradictions corresponds to the points of the previous sections. The question of resonance is discussed in later sections.
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.