Unlearning LO24527

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 05/02/00

Replying to LO24421 --

Dear Organlearners,

Morty Lefkoe <morty@decisionmaker.com> writes:

>To clarify something I've said in earlier postings: You can't
>unexperience experience, but you can unlearn the meaning
>you have given to the experiences. And, with few exceptions,
>what we learn and what we know as a result of what we learn,
>is meaning -- not the experiences themselves.

Greetings Morty,

I consulted the dictionaries (Oxford, Cambridge, Funk&Wagnall) again. The
basic meaning of the prefix "un-" before a verb is to reverse the action
indicated by the verb.

This is how you have interpreted "unexperience". By saying that we cannot
unexperience experience, we acknowledge something absolutely fundamental:
experiencing is an irreversible act.

The question now is what an "irrversible act" is? It is any change in any
system which will never reverse given the same environment, i.e. external
conditions. The only way to reverse an irreversible act is to make an
appropiate change in the environment (surrounding systems). On the other
hand, a "reversible act" is a change which can reverse itself without any
significant change in the environment.

This brings me to the fundamental feature of "learning", namely its
irreversibility. However, I call "irreversible learning" specifically
"authentic learning" so as not to cause confusion since others may deny
this as a fundamental feature of what they call "learning".

Dear Morty, your very paragraph

>I have developed some tools that allow people to (1) unlearn the
>cognitive and emotional learning that is producing undesirable or
>dysfunctional behavior or emotions, (2) create new "learning" that
>will result in a more positive life, and (3) realize that they are
>than the creation (the physical being, along with its behavior,
>thoughts, and feelings) they experience themselves to be -- that
>they are part of a larger "whole", a part of "God" if you will, that
>they are the creator of their lives.

indicates that you bring a change about in the environment by way of the
tools which you have created so as to reverse the learning. This is
absolutely necessary for irreversible learning, but not for reversible
learning. It is in this sense that I find jusitification for my teaching
-- to make irreversible changes in the surroundings of the learner rather
than trying to force myself into the mind of the learner and make
irreversible changes there. In fact, this fundamental irreversibility is
for me the basic justicifcation of all acts of every kind of
facilitation-stewardship-caretaking (call it what you like).

>Our lives are affected little, if at all, by earlier experiences.
>Our lives are determined to a great extent by the meaning we have
>given to those experiences.

I beg to differ with the "affected little, if at all, by earlier
experiences", but not "great extent by the meaning ". Our lives
(personalties) are the whole of all our experiences, not even one
experience excluded. In the danger of getting accused that I am repeating
myself, let me explain again:

I do acknowledge that of the far majority of experiences each have little
effect. It is those experiences which feed autopoiesis close to equilbrium
where the entropy production is low -- see the Digestor model. But
collectively these individually insignificant experiences become most
significant, giving to vast long range forces.

We may think of them as the "hmm" experiences.

However, a small minority of experiences each have a vast effect. It is
those experiences which feed self-organisation at the edge of chaos where
the entropy production is high -- see the Brusselator model. Such a
significant experience provide a growth point (like a seed crystal) for
thousands of future experiences.

We may think of them as the "aha" experiences.

Perhaps the best known classical example is Archimedes sitting in the bath
tub, becoming aware of less weight, and hence finding a solution to a
vexing problem -- how the determine the purity of an object without
destroying it.

How do we get meaning from a new experience? By connecting it to our some
specific place in out existing "whole of experiences". The meaning
depends heavily on the particular place we connect it to. Its like a
painting a picture. When we apply even merely one stroke of red paint, it
becomes absolutely important to the final outcome of the picture where in
the whole picture we apply that one stroke.

>The meaning we attribute to their behavior (I am ...., Life is ....,
>People are ....) is "learned" at the time, significantly affects our
>lives from then on, and can be unlearned at a later time.

I agree with all which you have said, except for the using the word
"unlearn" to name what you have in mind. But please bear in mind that
English is not my mother tongue so that my concept of the prefix "un-" is
not that of the mother tongue speaker.

In my own mother tongue Afrikaans we have a word which describe closely
what I think you have in mind as far as I can ascertain. It is the word
"afleer" ("leer"=learn). The prefix "af-" usually means "off-" and
sometimes "over-". We have dozens of words formed by the "af-"+verb to
indicate a modification or rehabilitation of what the verb originally
brought about. Thus the literal translation of "afleer" in English would
be "offlearn" (and perhaps "overlearn" might also be suitable.) Obviously,
this word does not exist in English.

I have checked the English dicitionaries and found only one verb which
make use of this powerful construction in the Germanic languages (to which
Old English also belong). It is the word "offset". I find it peculiar
that this powerful construction in Old English got lost in modern English.

There is a technical term in the education literature which describes to
some extend what you are doing. It is called "orthodidactics". The root
comes from the Greek "didasko"=teach.

I do not like this root at all because it focus on the "teach"
(benefactor) rather than on the "learn" (beneficiary). In fact, most of
the the "orthodidactic" literature is "teacher" rather than "learner"

Trying to translate the prefix "ortho-" open a Pandora box of perceptions.
Its meaning in Greek is straight, direct or normal. But it is often used
in English for "affirmative". Thus the closest meaning to "orthodidactics"
would be "affirmative teaching". This will not be a fine description
because we know how loaded with different perceptions the similar
description "affirmative action" has become.

The Greek word for learn is "paideuo" from which the word paedogogics in
education literature has been derived. Thus, to describe in a similar way
technically what you are doing, we might call it "orthopaedics".
Unfortunately, most of the extensive literature on paedogogics is on the
learning of children and not adults.

The concoction "affirmative learning" will also not do because it is made
up from a word of Latin origin ("affirmative") and word of Germanic origin
("learning"). We circumvent this in my mother tongue by calling it
"regstellende leer". The "reg-"=right, the "stel"= set (whereas
"stelsel"=system) and the "-lende-"=ing. Thus the literal translation for
"regstellende" would be "rightsetting". Obviously, this word also does
not exist in English so that "rightsetting learn" is undefined by
dictionaries. Yet its meaning is clear to me, but perhaps it is because of
the influence of Afrikaans.

>I believe that people create their lives, i.e., our lives are a
>manifestion of our cognitive and emotional learning. Most of the
>time we are unaware that we have created our lives and we blame
>what we don't like on something or somebody outside of ourselves.
>My focus is on having people become aware that they have and
>will continue to create their lives

Morty, I share your emphasis on "creating" as one of the most important
acts making us humans, a most peculiar kind of biological species.

Since the middle sixties I struggled with the question: what comes first,
"creating" or "learning" (almost like the hen and egg question). The
scanty literature on creativity in those days did not even posed the
question, but seemed to assume tacitly that "learning" becomes before
"creating". In other words, the literature seemed to assume tacitly that
we learn to create.

But when I began teaching in 1972, I tried to observe as closely as
possible among pupils what comes first. It took me less than two years to
become convinced that "creating" becomes before "learning". Although it is
fact of observation, it was very difficult for me to understand it. It
means we learn by "creating" rather than create by "learning". It took me
another dozen of years to understand how "creating" leads to "learning" --
by way of emergences as a result of bifurcations at the edge of chaos. It
took me yet another dozen of years to understand how "learning" (higher
order) influence "creating" (lower order) -- by way of "back action"
through commutation.

Thus I can now summarise the relationship between creating
and learning by the following diagram:

lower order relationship higher order

        ==========> emergence ========>
       || ||
creating learning
       || ||
        <========== back action <========

The feedback loop which is clearly visible here, may be called the
"ordinate cyber loop". My insight in them grew significantly since the
middle nineties. Today I am pretty sure that "ordinate cyber loops" are
the most important kind of all feedback loops.

For example, the "hydrogen bond" which keeps the two strings in the DNA
helix together, is the result of an ordinate cyber loop. Another example
is the relationship between the neurological system (physical) and the
mental system (spiritual).

I have seen many an organisation hit the dust when the going gets tough
(as it is now in South Africa) because of a ignorance of this "ordinate
cyber loop" in management. It is usually a negligence of either its
"emergent action" (employees to employer) or its "back action" (employer
to employees) or even both.

But, as you ask:

>- -- the only question will be: will they do it consciously or
>unconsciously? Actively or passively?

and then answer it by:

>I am trying to act as a "very complex catalyst"

few people realise that managing the new millenium will depend on our
comprehension of complexity.

To criticise complex contributions on this list (like many of mine) and
insist on simple clusters of statements or recipe driven solutions will
help us very little to prepare for that future which will come. We here in
South Africa had a whole bunch of holidays the past two weeks and I used
them to catch up on some of my reading. Once again I came deeply under the
impression of how complex human culture will become in a decade or two
from now.

For example, highly technological advancements will force us to make many
decisions unprecedented in the history of humankind. The increasing gap
between the many poor and few rich will unlash on a global scale entropy
production in all human culture which will test our very qualities of
humaneness. The displacement of nature by human culture as a result of
increasing populations will cause the extinction of thousands of living

But worse of all, people who try to dogmatise the simple, patchy and
linear mental framework will have increasingly more experiences which will
not fit into the whole. This will causing more hurting meanings which will
prevent further learning. As one of the consequences there will be an
increasing demand for facilitators like you in "unlearning". Yesterday was
the official "Mayday" holiday in South Africa. The main news bulletin on
TV was focussed on "worker rallies" and "worker issues". Since I was
preparing myself mentally for this reply to you, I was struck by the fact
that roughly 3/4 of the news items were on hurting meanings and the
subsequent retrogression of the people involved.

If I understand your own caring love for people correctly, I think you
will be saddened by the boom in such a business.

I have spoken a couple of months ago to a manufacturer of cadaver fridges
for morgues. I wanted to buy some insulating panels from them. With the
increasing deaths as a result of AIDS and mortal violence here business is
for them as best as it can be. They are not ashamed to admit that the
one's death is the other's breath. When I asked the sales manager what
they are doing to help decreasing the death rate in our country, he said
that this is not their business. Well, with such a cut and dried attitude,
I will rather cut my nose and spoil my own face than buying panels from

It makes me think of the local automotive industry. The stealing of cars
have taken such drastic proportions that official figures released by the
industry indicate that two out of every three new cars sold have to
replace stolen cars. A significant number of stolen cars are smuggled over
our borders to the rest of Southern Africa where a car has now become a
prized posession. Few people north of our borders can still afford a car

I find it very disconcerting how many people get extremely rich by
destructive creativity and its after effects without lifting a finger or
an eyebrow to diminish it. I have talked to a few of them and was
surprised to learn that they were completely unaware of creativity having
a destructive side to it.

Clearly the "back action" of learning on creativity has become
insignificant. Why?

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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