7th January 1983
Comprehension and Organization
- / -
Part 6 of Development
. Augmented version of a paper
originally prepared for Integrative Working Group B of the Goals, Processes
and Indicators of Development (GPID) project of the Human and Social Development
Programme of the United Nations University (UNU). This document was originally
distributed as a separate monograph in 1983. The paper provides a structure
linking reviews of alternation as it emerges in studies from a wide range of
sources. The paper is in 9 separate parts
[searchable PDF version
6.1 Non-comprehension "holes"
The previous sections clarify the conceptual challenge by which
societies are faced in endeavouring to "ride the tiger" and encompass
development process in which they are immersed. But the very fact that this seems
to call for juggling conceptually with seven or more factors simultaneously
the need to examine what kind of situation results if this does not prove
what kind of psychosocial structures then emerge. As reviewed in an earlier paper
(58), most people have difficulty
in juggling with more than three factors, and there
is a considerable preference for dealing with one, or at the most two.
The nature of the communication (and organizational) patterns which
emerge as the
result of conceptual discontinuity and non-comrnunication has been clarified by
Q-analysis. This is the theory and
application of mathematical relations between
finite sets. Ron Atkin has applied
this to the analysis of communication patterns
within complex organizations (72, 73, 74).
The perceptual significance of this approach is well-illustrated by visual
sensitivity to colours resulting from the three primary hues (red, green and
blue). These may be represented on a simple piece of geometry as shown in
Figure 3. Here the vertices (O-simplexes) represent the primary hues,
the sides are twofold combinations (l-sirnplexes), and the combination of
the three hues makes the central white (2-sirnplex). The 2-simplex, together
with all its faces, forms a simplicial complex KY(X) where X is the vertex
set (red, green, blue) and Y is the set of seven perceived colours.
|Reproduced from Atkin (73, p.108)
Now to be able to see all the colours, a person's vision needs to have the
ability to function in the triangle as 2-dimensional "traffic" on
that geometry, moving from location to location adjusting to the complexity
of the geometrical structure which carries the visual traffic. If however
the person's vision is limited to 1-dimensional traffic, then white could
not be perceived because the visual traffic of seeing is then restricted to
the edges and vertices. Similarly, if the person's colour vision is only
O-dimensional, then it is restricted to the vertices. It can only see one
vertex colour at a time and never a combination (as represented by an edge).
If vision was 3-dimensional, it would allow traffic throughout the geometry,
but would perceive other colours as well, calling for a fourth vertex in order
to contain the full range of combinations.
If the geometry represents concepts or psychosocial functions (or even policy
issues faced by an organization) instead of colours, then it would be expected
that some people, in relation to that set, would have O0-dimensional comprehension
(i.e. sensitive to primary issues only and others would have I-dimensional
comprehension (i.e. sensitive to 2-fold issue combinations only). The latter
would be unable to maintain attention to three concepts simultaneously in
order to perceive the threefold combination (the central "white"
issue). The threefold issue is then a 2-hole in the pattern of communication
connectivity amongst those involved. For 2-dimensional traffic, the issue
complex is coherent, comprehensible and well integrated. For the I-dimensional
traffic, it feels less secure as a whole, since the latter may only be experienced
sequentially through a succession of experiences ("around the
edges") from which the shape of the whole is deduced. For O-dimensional
traffic, the integrated concept does not exist, since experience is disconnected.
"Generally speaking it seems to be confirmed that action (of whatever
kind) in the community can be seen as traffic in the abstract geometry and
that this traffic must naturally avoid the holes (because it is impossible
for any such action to exist in a hole). The holes therefore appear strangely
as objects in the structure, as far as the traffic is concerned. The difference
is a logical one in that the word "q-hole" describes a static feature
of the geometry S(N), whilst the world "q-object" describes the
experience of that hole by traffic which moves in S(N)" (72, p. 75).
As an "object" this phenomenon is an obstacle to communication
and comprehension and obliges those confronted with it to go "around"
in order to sense the higher dimensionality by which it is characterized.
Communications "bounces off" such objects. As a "hole"
this phenomenon engenders, or is engendered by, a pattern of communication.
It appears to function both as "source" and "sink".
Atkin suggests that, in some way which is not yet fully understood, such object/holes
act as sources of energy for the possible traffic around them. From the initial
research it would appear that such objects/holes are characteristic of communication
patterns in most complex organizations. It seems highly probable that they
can also be detected in any partially ordered pattern of communication.
As such societal problems", "human needs", and "human
values" merit examination in this light.
Very concretely, Atkin has investigated situations in which the "vertices"
(which could themselves be n-simplexes in a multidimensional geometry) are
individuals or offices linked together through various committees. (They
could also be governments or disciplines.) There will then be a lot of o-traffic
and 1-traffic within and between offices due to the details of their intra-
and inter-office (bilateral) operations. This traffic will circulate around
the holes/objects which they constitute. Any n-level traffic can only be
encompassed, or be brought to rest, by an (n+l)-level body (e.g. an executive
or a committee). If the latter does not exist, such traffic will continue
to circulate around the q-objects in the structure and, according to Atkin,
may be defined as noise.
An "empire builder" (or any elite), for example, in such an
organizational system will
carefully create many q-holes underneath him (at the n-level), so that
answerable only to his appointees, are trapped in the flow of noise between
(72, pp. 1 29). Atkin notes that even
though the geometry may not have been rendered
explicit, such structures generate the feeling throughout a community of some
behind the scenes" acting to outwit the formal structure. The special value of Q-analysis
is that it can clarify why action/discussion in connection with (development)
to be "circular" in the long-term, however energetic it may appear in
the short-term. As
such it shows how social change is blocked
by the way in which conceptual traffic patterns
itself around the sensed core issue
which is never confronted as such because the
connectivity pattern is inadequate to the dimensionality of the issue. This would explain
why so manty issues go unresolved and why the process of "solving"
institutionally of greater importance than the actual "elimination"
of the problem.
Q-analysis gives precision to the recognition that traffic of different
degrees of content
connectivity finds (or creates) its appropriate level in any psychosocial
Communicable insights are level-bound, especially where they are of high
other words, at the level within which we can communicate, concepts cannot
be anchored unambiguously into terms and definitions which "travel
introduces distortion which is only acceptable locally within any communicating
although "locally" must be interpreted in the non-geographical sense
in which all nuclear
physicists are near neighbours, for example.
The relation between two personal or institutional structures, conceived
multidimensional back cloth, carries whatever traffic that constitutes the
between them. If this back cloth
changes by becoming dimensionally smaller, then its
geometry loses vertices and the consequent connectivity properties. This is first indicated
by the failure of higher dimensional traffic which the geometry can no longer
4-traffic, for example, must then mover through the structure to some new haven
of 4-dimensionality or it must
change its nature and become genuine 3-traffic. This process
of reducing communication expectations in order to continue to live within the
warped geometry is the classical problem of compromising. The feeling of "having to
compromise" is a painful one. It
is the feeling of stress induced by the warping of the
communication geometry, namely the direct experience of a structurally induced
this case a 4-force (72, pp. 146-7).
This approach clearly provides a very precise approach
to understanding more subtle forms of structural violence. He has applied it to an analysis
of unemployment (72, p. 148).
Such considerations suggest the power of Q-analysis in clarifying
approaches to human and
social development in general.
Reducing the dimensionality of the geometry on which a
person (or group) is able to live is an impoverishment associated with
Expanding the dimensionality induces positive, attractive forces through which
a sense of
development and enrichment is experienced (72, p. 163). Q-analysis seems to be a
valuable new language through which precision can be given to intuitive
then communication, particularly since it provides an explicit measure of
In the case of social development, it is probable that most continuing
should be seen as holes/objects, especially given the well-established record
action in response to them - however
vigorous and dedicated. Typical
peace/disarmament, development, human rights, environment, etc. Q-analysis could then
provide understanding of why any action tends to be drawn into a vortex of
however much it satisfies short-term political needs for visible
"positive" action. The
participants in the action find themselves "circulating" around a
central concern of which
they are unable to obtain an overview due to the geometries of the overlapping
and organizational structures through which they work (or which they somehow
The term "futility" used above is however only appropriate if
the sole considerations were
the elimination of such problems. In
fact the existence of such problems is extremely
important to the organization of society, to social development, and to the
indirect employment of many people.
3ust as the "defence" business is vital to the
economy of many countries, so is the "social problem" business vital
to many sectors of
society. Eliminating social problems
would be a disaster for many people, especially
problem-oriented intellectuals, or the employees of problem-solving agencies.
In the case of human development, Atkin shows how the individual can be
defined in terms
of a multidimensional geometry requiring a minimum of four levels (72, p. 111).
relating this geometry to that of society, itself structured into
reminiscent of the preoccupations of Chadwick F. Alger (75), Atkin introduces an
scheme (72, p. 162), within which the degree of integration or eccentricity of
communication can be clarified in terms of developmental or anti-developmental
Concerning such levels, the question arises as to whether their
hierarchical order is fixed.
Preoccupations associated with Schumacher's "small is beautiful", for
example, may well
modify the order. The ordering may be
a question of orientation in which the "top" and
"bottom" elements selected depend on the preferred concept and
direction of development
(e.g. "top-down", "bottom-up"). This would be more consistent with the concept of order
as an (existential) choice as discussed above in connection with the various
In such a multidimensional geometry it is clar that, whether in the case
of an individual, a
group or society as a whole, it is not possible to eliminate "under
associated with low dimensionality.
Such a geometry will necessarily continue to have
traffic of very low-level connectivity co-present
with that of increasingly higher level
connectivity. The simplest
illustration arises from the continual birth of infants who will,
when resources permit, continue to be educated through to the level of
which they can respond. But there will
always be communication at both low and
high-connectivity levels, especially about socio-political issues. The question is then how
such learning communication between these different levels of connectivity can
itself together within a social structure.
It is the status of the holes/objects in relation to development which
could provide an
interesting point of departure for further investigation. As noted above, it is not a
question of attempting vainly to eliminate such holes, especially when some of
arise from alternative concepts of "development". Rather it is a question of how
configurations of holes can be
identified and/or designed. It is such
configurations of holes
which provide the minimum structure (and communication dynamics) to stabilize
form to the co-presence of the
differing "answers" to the challenge of development.
In effect such holes exist at a lower connectivity-level than the
higher connectivity constituted by the world problematique at this time. This
macro-crisis hole "absorbs" the development initiatives of society by
immense volume of action/communication traffic around the hole so defined. This
draws attention to the developmental implications the probable presence of
yet higher dimensionality than can be readily sensed or made the subject of
acceptable public (consensual) communication.
How then are "better" holes to be engendered within such
configurations? Now from
one point of view it is necessary to avoid introducing an element of
because from each hole the perception of other holes will be distorted so that
communicable assessment can be
usefully formulated. On the other hand,
prove to be the case that, at the level of the
configuration as a whole, more than one
such configuration can be identified/designed in order to interrelate the
associated with the set of holes. And
at this level, without privileging
hole, more adequate interrelationships between the elements making up the holes
can be identified.
Expressed differently, introducing evaluative judgements into the
between the holes within a particular configuration can only contribute to the
dynamics between such holes in terms of perceived advantage/disadvantage.
Excessive emphasis on this runs the risk of tearing the configuration
identities associated with the holes can be respected in each of the
a series constituting progressively more adequate or richer formulations of the
relationships between "developments". If the communication problem necessarily
segments comprehension of "development", there is consequently a
concepts of development operative in society.
Individuals and groups may "progress"
from one to another, possibly with a general tendency towards those of higher
connectivity. But other individuals and
groups will emerge and find the concepts of
lower connectivity more meaningful before moving on, if they do, to those of higher
connectivity. (In this sense the
"ontogenesis" of an individual tends to repeat the
"phylogenesis" of his/her society.)
Society in this sense is the arena within which
individuals and groups refine their concept of development.
6.2 Discontinuity: Comprehension and internatization
It appears from Fuller's work that cycles interlock with greatest
minimum energy condition) in such a way as to form configurations of modes in
relatively simple geometrical patterns (e.g. spherical tetrahedron,
according to the number of cycles. The
modes correspond to answer domains
effectively stabilized into sets by standing wave interference effects. The portions
of cycles linking such modes are then the transformation
pathways between them
which favour information transfer and learning. The pattern as a whole can also be
considered as a transformation of the two-dimensional matrix representation of
answer domains (discussed earlier) into a "wrap-around"
"container". The observer,
in terms of the "third perspective", is effectively given a
location at the spherical centre in contrast to his undefined status in
relation to the
matrix. The significance of this
transformation has been discussed in earlier papers
(24, 43, 45).
Fortunately as portrayed this representation is essentially sterile. Even
though it encompasses incompatibles it does so within a framework which is
a typical example of left-hemisphere thinking. Only by re-introducing right-hemisphere
thinking is it possible to open the way to anything of transformative significance.
In effect the rational objectivity of a presentation must be challenged
(and, in Attali's terms, "seduced") by irrational discontinuity
and subjectivity. Strangely it would seem that the scholastic preoccupation
with avoiding "non sequiturs" is precisely what renders academic
conclusions non-transformative, at least in any revolutionary sense. They
do not internalize discontinuity but effectively project it onto their non-relationship
with other answer domains.
The challenge of internalizing non-sequiturs is one of the exciting
aspects of the frontiers of fundamental physics (7, 32, 33). Many observers
have remarked the relationship to Eastern concepts of consciousness, especially
Zen (47, 48, 49). Others note that the challenge of the times calls for a
change of consciousness, but are unable to design any framework to focus the
approach to this. As a response to this dilemma, an earlier paper (27) experimented
with presenting the steps of an argument in terms of left- and right-hemisphere
modes alternately. This procedure was based on the assumption that a transformative
argument cannot be wholly based on one mode or the other, but each must
provide clues (negative and positive feedback) for the next step of the other
(as implied above by the "walking" metaphor).
Bateson has argued strongly for a somewhat related approach:
"...it is necessary to expand on the relationship between form and
process, treating the notion of form as an analogue of what I have been calling
tautology and process as the analogue of the aggregate of phenomena to be
explained. As form is to process, so tautology is to description....What
is important...is to note that my procedures of inquiry were punctuated by
an alternation between classification and the description of process....I
shall argue that this paradigm...recurs again and again wherever mental process...predominates
in the organization of phenomena.
In other words, when we take the notion of logical typing out of the field
of abstract logic and start to map real biological events onto the hierarchies
of this paradigm, we shall immediately encounter the fact that in the world
of mental and biological systems, the hierarchy is not only a list of classes,
classes of classes, and classes of classes of classes, but has also become
a zigzag ladder of dialectic between form and process" (29, p.
190, 193, 194)
The earlier paper (12) alternated between presentations of right-hemisphere
(RH) arguments considered academically acceptable to Jungian psychologists
and left-hemisphere (LH) arguments concerning structure. The RH material
forms part of the symbolic heritage of many cultures (50). The concern of
Jungians is to clarify its contemporary significance and thus counteract the
"cerebral imperialism" and "dominance" (51, p.
255) of the LH over the RH and the projections onto society to which that
gives rise. They see this dominance pattern as the subjective origin
of the present social crisis. The therapeutic objective is the achievement
of a greater integration between the LH and the RH through a transcendent
"union of opposites", namely a transcendent function (or
the "meta-answer" seen in a new light):
"One tendency seems to be the regulating principle of the other; both
are bound together in a compensatory relationship...aesthetic formulation
needs understanding of the meaning, and understanding needs aesthetic formulation.
The two supplement each other to form the transcendent function" (51,
In the LH approach, the structural problems of containing and transforming
attention were explored using as a metaphor the current research on the containment
of plasma (whose fluidity corresponds closely to that of attention) in fusion
research. This requires a special configuration, yet to be discovered,
before energy can be generated at a sustainable yield. It would seem that
the patterns of thought and structure required for this fusion breakthrough
offer insight for a corresponding breakthrough in human and social development
(and are a technological prefiguration of it, in Attali's terms (52)).
Whilst the approach outlined is worth exploring, once again it is necessary
to challenge the essential inadequacy of the previous step. It is not sufficient
at this time to elaborate "descriptions" and "theories".
Whatever their RH component, they are essentially LH in nature, confronting
the observer in a manner which deactivates and neutralizes him. If there
is to be effective "seduction", something more stimulating and participative
The basic weakness of the above approach is that it fails to clarify or internalize
the obvious differences in peoples ability to comprehend and derive significance
from a meta-answer. In this sense a meta-answer is not definable and
subject to enclosure, but is elusive in that it is understood and defined
to different degrees by different people. To the extent that there is no
foreseeable limit on future increases and refinements in understanding, the
definition is in fact open-ended in terms of time.
6.3 Pattern accumulation in a learning society
In such a social condition of "structured fluidity", observers
can no longer usefully assume that they are standing on solid ground around
which events flow (for their intellectual delectation). Such an assumption
merely temporarily defines the observer (or an aspect of his personality)
as a rigid element in society, within which he is not currently undergoing
a process of developmental transformation. In this sense observers are,
momentarily, non-participants in the process of human and social development.
Furthermore observation is only one step in the learning process, to the extent
that it is useful to consider that observers, as observers, are effectively
It would seem that in a fluid environment, structured by degrees and kinds
of comprehension, that a vital step forward is to switch from interpreting
actions in terms of their significance for development to their significance
as learning. It is strange that "development" is conventionally
a process applied to, or undergone by "others" - never by
the "developers", despite their well-documented limitations. It
is acknowledged that good teachers succeed partly because their attitude is
one of learning with, and from, the student - to the point that "facilitator"
is more appropriate than "teacher". The advocated change can then
be represented by:
From: developers + developees = developing society
To: facilitator-learners + learners = learning society
For this change of interpretation to be other than cosmetic, the concept
of "learning" must:
(a) extend far beyond conventional forms of book learning and training;
(b) be promoted as an activity of all social institutions;
(c) extend beyond individual learning (in a learning society) to
group and societal learning;
(d) be accepted as intrinsic to all activities of all social institutions
(not just "educational" programmes, but living as learning).
The first two points are well elaborated in the report of the UNESCO International
Commission on the Development of Education (57), concerned with the emergence
of a "learning society", but from which the last two points are
totally absent, since they do not refer to "development of individual
education" (a well-defined answer domain) but "development as societal
learning" (which generates its own answers) in a more inclusive sense.
The importance of the third point has been discussed in an earlier paper (58)
in relation to the erosion of collective memory. Rector Soedjatmoko of the
UN University has emphasized this point (prior to taking that position) in
relation to the "learning capacity of a nation":
"The capacity of a nation - not just of its government, but of society
as a whole - to adjust to rapidly changing techno-economic, socio-cultural
and political changes, on a scale which makes it possible to speak of social
transformation, very much depends on its collective capacity to generate,
to ingest, to reach out for, and to utilize a vast amount of new and relevant
information. This capacity for creative and innovative response to changing
conditions and new challenges I would like to call the learning capacity of
a nation. This capacity is obviously not limited to the cognitive level,
but includes the attitudinal, institutional and organisational levels of society
It therefore resides not only in a nation's formal educational system,
not only in the government bureaucracy, in parliament and the political parties,
but also in the business community, in the media, the professional organisations,
the trade unions, the cooperatives and the various kinds of voluntary associations
within the society at large. It also includes the political public with
its various political constituencies, consumer groups, and all other kinds
of permanent and ad hoc pressure groups." (59, p. 82-83).
A recent Club of Rome report extends this notion to "humanity":
"Our continued survival is testimony that humanity indeed learns...
So we have to reconsider what is meant by the statement "humanity learns".
Does the statement no imply - indeed demand - that learning occur at the right
time and on a scale sufficiently large not only to avoid disasters but also
to conclude a century, so much traumatized by successive follies, with a gain
in peace, dignity, and happiness?" (60, p. 118)
The report concludes however that:
"The conventional, often unarticulated, conception of how societies
learn...(is reduced to one of)...adjusting to and consuming the discoveries
and knowledge produced in centers of expertise. The unavoidable consequence
of this view of societal learning is elitism, technocracy, and paternalism.
What is omitted is the fact meaning and values - decisive for learning - are
products of society at large, not of specialized centers...(that)...tend to
reproduce themselves according to their own internal logic. This autonomous
and self-reproducing development accounts in large part for the fact that
so much of societal learning is maintenance learning." (60, p.80-81)
The basic distinction made in the report between the necessities of maintenance
(adaptive) learning and innovative (shock) learning can be related to the
alternation process discussed above "Innovative societal learning seeks
to restore active learning to those in society conventionally confined to
a passive role of assimilation" (5, p. 8). But whilst much research
has been done on individual learning processes, hardly any is done on organizational
or group or societal learning (60, p. 137).
The key question then becomes: what is the individual or collective learning
component of any activity? A major weakness of conventional concepts
of development is that, outside the economic answer domain, there is no positive
coherent image of what is being achieved by human and social development processes.
In a learning society, however, it is "learning" which is being
accumulated, where this can best be partially defined in terms of accumulation
of recognized patterns. Discovery of the manner in which newly comprehended
patterns interlock and constrain each other most economically, in terms of
a meta-pattern, is the organizing constraint upon the accumulation process.
Given the current passive, academically inferior status of "learning"
(as part of the professor-student, trainer-trainee dominance mind-set), it
should be apparent that a complementary active (learning through doing), conflictual
(learning through opposing) dimension is inherent in what is advocated here.
Learning is effectively being "defined" by the accumulation process
in the zigzag ladder of dialectical alternation between perceptions of form
and process (4), which Bateson considers "basic to the way in which the
world of adaptive action is put together." (29, p. 201)
"I shall further suggest that the very nature of perception follows
this paradigm; that learning is to be modeled on the same sort of zigzag paradigm;
that in the social world, the relation between love and marriage or education
and status necessarily follow a similar paradigm; that in evolution, the
relation between somatic and phylogenetic change and the relation between
the random and the selected have this zigzag form. I shall suggest that
similar relations obtain at a more abstract level between speciation and variation,
between continuity and discontinuity and between number and quantity."
(29, p. 195)
Learning of this kind can only ever be partially contained within an organization
or a paradigm, because of its essentially dichotomous nature. As Bateson
"This view makes the process of learning...necessarily discontinuous....A
world of sense, organization, and communication is not conceivable without
discontinuity, without threshold. If sense organs can receive news only
of difference, and if neurons either fire or do not fire, then threshold becomes
necessarily a feature of how the living and mental world is put together."
(29, p. 202)
Learning is an ordered dynamic response to discontinuity and conflict
between institutions and answer domains - a conflict which it engenders
and by which it is engendered, for learning to continue. But learning is
not an unconstrained process without limits (#6), except in a purely gross
sense. Due to the progressive interlocking of accumulated patterns into
nested meta-patterns, as a solution to human processing capacity limitations
(43), there is a form of directed, convergence onto a progressively clarified
ultimate meta-pattern, towards which learning tends asymptotically, in that
final (en)closure is never achieved (except possibly as an essentially transient,
private, transcendental experience). Bateson describes this ultimate pattern
"The pattern which connects (all living creatures) is a meta-pattern.
It is a pattern of patterns. It is that meta-pattern which defines the vast
generalization that, indeed, it is patterns which connect."(29, p. 11)
Final enclosure evanesces in the paradoxical world of self-reference explored
in a left-hemisphere mode by D Hofstadter (15). Jantsch points out however
that in life the issue is not control but dynamic connectedness. For him
"Learning may generally be described as the co-evolution of systems which
accumulate experience." (21, p. 196). He cites Christine von Weizaecker:
"...co-evolving systems...play between adaptation and non-adaptation.
Total adaptation and total non-adaptation are both lethal. In ecology, a
niche fits the species sufficiently, without defining it; the species, in
turn, fit the niche sufficiently, without defining it. What else is fitting,
but not defining each other, than an emancipated relation." (76)