3rd February 1996
Musings on Information of a Higher Quality
- / -
Published in Network Review: journal of the Scientific
and Medical Network,
61, August 1996, pp. 32-33
Increasingly I find that I have more to learn from how I respond to
information of a higher quality rather than from the information content
itself. By "higher quality" I mean integrative knowledge suggesting higher
orderings from unforeseen perspectives. In particular the musings below
are evoked by readings of recent issues of Network (of the Scientific
and Medical Network). But I experience the same challenges with other journals
and books with whose content I would wish to be associated.
The learning challenge has something analogous to that faced by a person
of modest appetite exposed to a vast buffet. What to consume -- quantity,
variety, combinations? Whether to consume more -- when is enough? Why am
I tempted to consume more -- what am I gaining? Is curiosity reason enough?
Am I gaining wisdom calories and facing a challenge of conceptual obesity?
Just what am I to do with the N+1th piece of insight I encounter?
The consumption metaphor may well be less than appropriate. I have tried
using musical metaphors -- with each contribution to a journal as a note,
an instrument, or a piece of music. I am then the listener attempting to
hear the composition to which these all contribute -- the music of the
spheres. Each journal issue is then a symphony --could I but stretch to
integrate its apparently disparate elements. Are the contributors really
influenced by each others contributions to enhance the quality of the whole?
What is the music they are making together?
But I remain dissatisifed. There are jarring notes. Moving from one
proposed new "model" or "perspective" to another -- each with its special
claims to unique insight -- often leaves a bad taste. How can I integrate
so much special pleading and implicit denigration of alternative perspectives?
I am increasingly wary of efforts at a grand unifying theory that carry
the implication that "Bloggs Theory of Everything" could fruitfully govern
our awareness for the rest of time -- a sort of conceptual Thousand Year
Reich. What would I do if everybody agreed that Bloggs was "right"? Where
does it leave my own future learning challenges and contributions to society?
Will I have to spend the remainder of my life learning to understand Bloggs
Theory? Or should I be desperately aspiring to produce "Judge's Theory
of Everything" and seek to impose it uponthe world? Should we all seek
to sign bricks in the cathedral we are engaged in constructing?
Horror of horrors, maybe my conceptual eye has an iris that opens and closes
in response to degrees of integration that I cannot absorb -- filtering out
the wisdom I would claim to desire. Orrin Klapp has explored this possibility
in Opening and Closing: strategies of information adaptation in society (1978).
Maybe this explains my reluctance to subscribe to all the good journals and
books I can locate -- and what about all those home-pages on the Web I could
peruse for free? And all those schools of spiritual wisdom? Am I really avoiding
what is is most important to my own growth?
Also I question the appropriateness of my response to some of the contributions.
Should I find some boring or irrelevant? What is that saying about my sensitivity?
Am I really envious concerning reports of a particular initiative in areas
in which I like to believe I have competence and experience? Territoriality
and status rear their ugly heads. But what do they mean in relation to
integrative, interdisciplinary discourse? If I am part of some community
with a shared agenda, what do such dynamics imply?
Then there are statements or contributions with which I strongly disagree
or find inadequate. Should I rush to communicate my protest? To whom? In
whose interests? What would it accomplish? Is it an appropriate use of
my energy and how am I to make decisions about that? From where does this
At another extreme, what is all this saying about my capacity to dialogue
with persons of greater insight than myself? Would I be able to detect
their wisdom in the first place -- given the iris effect? What would I
want to say to them and why? Do I really want to ask "questions" and receive
"answers"? Or is there some other play it would be good to play? Is my
response consistent with how I respond to others who seek insight from
But maybe I could not detect the subtleties of a dialogue which would
be mutually enriching? As with the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence)
projects, it is possible that the key factor inhibiting communication is
that humanity is perceived as abysmally boring by other intelligences --
what tolerance dolphins may be exhibiting! Not only are we at the bottom
of a gravity well, but possibly also at the bottom of a boredom well! Such
concerns certainly determine my participation in conferences and my avoidance
of yet another "presentation". Great are the joys of non-directive communication.
So I am forced to look for richer metaphors through which to frame the
process of interacting with information of higher quality. Ecological metaphors
offer interesting scope. Whether perusing a journal or attending a conference,
I can endeavour to cultivate my surroundings like a garden. Plants and
animals do not have to reflect some absolute criteria of elegance, coordination
or integration -- it is their integration into the ecosystem which is vital.
As the gardener of my universe, I can allow them to have their behavioural
peculiarities - including tendencies to territoriality and arrogant self-righteousness.
The Zen of Gardening allows me, gracefully, to allow the garden to do
its own thing to a very high degree -- and the more I can comprehend how
it is doing so the better. I give form to that ecosystem in my own consciousness.
My only challenge is then to discover exactly what I am doing there and
whether there is any situation in which I should intervene -- and how to
do so, if I am able. This is surely the ultimate Sufi art -- could I but