Problem solving tool kit LO25488

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/18/00

Replying to LO25432 --

Dear Organlearners,

Winfried Dressler <> writes:

>Second each of those models are very complex and require
>a real expert in it. This reminds me of the world of medical
>care. There are experts for many disciplines. And in a really
>bad (but not so uncommon) case, they make an anamnese
>of the symptoms and prescribe a pill, which is meant to cure
>from the symptoms. Ususally, if the patient is not a doctor
>himself, he does not know how the pill interacts in his body.
>By the time, with changing symptoms the patient will take
>many pills a day and the day will come when most of the
>symptoms are due to interactions of the pills in the body. The
>patient is fully dependent on the doctors although he would
>be best off with none of them.

Greetings Winfried,

Perhaps I can shed additional light on this curious symptom of what we may
call "systemism".

In chemistry the concept "unit operation" is often used. The "unit
operation" creates a certain cause which will result in a certain effect
-- the one-to-one-mapping. Tested "unit operations" for many kinds of
effects exist such as analysis, synthesis and control. The "unit
operation" may be simple when consisting of a few active steps or even
complex with many active steps intertwined.

However, the "unit operation", whether self simple or complex, is reliable
only for simple systems. As soon as the "unit operation" is applied to a
complex system, one cause will result in many effects as if each effect
had its own cause -- the one-to-many-mapping. (The principal reason for
this is the underlying Onsager dynamics of entropy production.)

When "many is not too many" such as in moderately complex systems, these
extra effects are refered to as "interferences". The chemist will then
make modifications to the unit procedure so as to reduce these
"interferences" (additional effects), almost like a doctor prescribing a
second kind of medicine to reduce the ill effects of the first kind of
medicine, For example (1) antibiotic + (2) vitamin supplement. But in a
fully fledged complex system these modifications become useless like the
unit operations themselves have become useless.

When I began with my research on the "soil system" which is complex, one
of my first surprises was how useless virtually all the "unit operations"
which I have learned at university in chemistry, physics and even
mathematics have become. It is impossible to divide the "soil system" into
separate parts and apply these "unit operations" to its appropiate
"apart-system". As the holist will say, the "soil system" is more than the
sum of its "apart-systems".

When afterwards I began teaching in high school, I thought I knew
complexity. But I quickly became surprised too. I was attracted to the use
of "learning objectives" because I was not fully cured from my Mental
Model of "unit operations are reliable". A "learning objective", as it had
been used in those days and still is used predominantly today, is also a
one-to-one-mapping. The "learning objective" is used as the cause and the
effect is the learning outcome. (It is possible to cure "learning
objectives" from this "one-to-one-mapping" syndrome, but that is a very
complex topic on its own.)

I began experimenting with learning objectives in our school district long
before anyone else. Sooner than later I had to conclude that the intended
one-to-one-mapping differed from the actual diversity of outcomes as the
one-to-many-mapping. I had been using them, in analogy to the name of our
LO-topic, as an "objective learning tool kit". Thus I had to stop
proceeding from one objective to another in a sequential manner and mend
my teaching. I had to learn how to weave several objectives together,
focussing on the goal common to them rather than on each individually. (It
is from here that my interest developed into the goal as the binder or
sheath of objectives and the mission as the binder or sheath of goals.)

Obviously, I had to advise the pupils (and later students) to modify their
use of learning objectives too. They should rather manage most of their
learning intuitively (tacitly) and use the learning objectives only
afterwards to control (tick off) the quality of their learning. During the
actual learning, they should focus explicitly on one broad goal rather
than many narrow objectives.

Our country is now in the grib of Outcome Based Education (OBE) since it
has become the policy of the new government. Experts from overseas on OBE
are invited to give key note lectures in simposia and hold workshops on
OBE. I attended some of them, but my recollections of my own stupidities
many years ago makes them rather frustrating. Meanwhile concerned
teachers are discovering painfully in practice that not all is glitter and
glamour with OBE, just as it is with a TQM strategy such as ISO2000.

Winfried, since you are interested in logic, I can compare this use of
learning objectives with logical thinking. Symbolic logic should always be
done in terms (the context) of intuitive logic. Symbolic logic should not
be done like the "unit operations" which I refered to earlier especially
since symbolic logic easily lends itself to such "unit operations". These
"unit operations" in symbolic logic are dreadful as you may have self
discovered. Anyway, the "logic system" like the "soil system" is for me
definitely complex. Symbolic logic is merely one facet of the "logic
system". Yet many people have the notion that logic in general is
simplistic or reductionistic. Perhaps they are thinking tacitly about
these "unit operations" when applied indiscriminately, even in logic.

>[Host: anamnese? ..Rick]

Yes, I was also perplexed, but I will definitely not point Windfried out
as the cause of my confusion since that would be a "unit operations" ;-)

The psychologist Karl Jung with his great sensitivity to wholeness develop
a form of psychoanalysis which he called "anamnese". Its etymology is the
Greek "ana"=anew/again/back/up and "mimnesko"= mental-making. Some medical
doctors seem to prefer the term "catamnese" where the Greek
"kata"=down/against/under. They use it to refer to the pathological
(including symptomatic) history of the illness of a patient.

To understand this use, compare it with the biological terms anabolism and
catabolism. (Greek: "ana"=anew and "cata" =under/down.) Anabolism refers
to the whole of all chemical reactions in an organism by which more
complex organic compounds (often rare) are synthesised from simpler ones,
usually common inorganic substances. Catabolism refers to the whole of all
the reactions by which complex organic compunds are broken down into
simpler ones, usually common inorganic substances.

I suspect that the problem of doctors administering the patient many kinds
of pills according to the one-to-one-mapping
. "kind of pill" <====> "kind of symptom"
lies at least in the improper mastery of two disciplines, namely
diagnostics and pharmacology. I think that too much emphasis is laid
on diagnostics and much of this emphasis is nothing more than "unit
operations". (Those who "train" them in chemistry and physics are
also responsible for fixing this Mental Model before they even arrive at
the medical school.) Too little emphasis is laid on pharmacology since
that is the profession of the pharmacist.

As I perceive it, even in the training of pharmacists a holistic view is
seldom held. The problem is complicated further by the doctor and the
pharmacist usually working independantly as a result of professionalism.
The lack of Team Work (learning) is a clear indication that the whole of
medical professions are in dire need of the art of Learning Organisations.
The indulgence into "systemism" rather than employing sound Systems
Thinking is another indicator too.

I cannot resist in mentioning that the "problem solving tool kit" has
become literally a serious problem self in the training (rather than
teaching) of basic sciences such as chemistry and physics. Trainers
collect for themselves a vast battery of problems (with answers) with
which the pupil/student can be trained-tested for every possible concept
in that subject. Examine modern text-books in these subjects and see the
lengthy section at the end of each chapter on problems.

I prefer to call these "problems" by the name "rote problems" rather than
"authentic problems".

Firstly, the very fact that the "problems" at the end of the chapter
concern only the the content of that chapter indicates their use as "unit
operations". Give the student a "rich problem" in which the contents of
previous chapters also have to be kept in mind and see what happens. They
quickly become restless and rebellious because they are now becoming aware
of their Mental Model "unit operations are reliable". Give the student an
even "richer problem" in which the content of a future chapter plays a
role, but in which the Law of Requisite Complexity does not play a role
and see what happens. Soon they try their best to get rid of that teacher
or lecturer, jusitified by a system which itself advocates "unit

Secondly, the fact that carefully worked out examples of similar
"problems" are given within that chapter itself. What the student then has
to do, is to apply the algorithm ("unit operations") of that example to a
matching "problem" at the end of the chapter or vice versa. However, give
the students a problem which matches with an example, but in which the
algorithm fails because of failing one of the seven essentialities and see
what happens. Soon the students judge that the lecturer wants to drive
them into a corner with that problem so as to prevent their "learning"
(which is "rote learning").

Trying to guide students into authentic learning in a system which has
deteriorated so much is not very short of commiting "professional
suicide". Much verbal violence has to be endured by colleagues who have
made "training in rote learning by using unit operations" their life

So, Winfried, when you write:

>Surely I don't mind if we set up such kind of 'taxonomy',
>but I must admit that I am very reluctant. May be I should
>keep my mouth closed and wait a while, but there are
>already many models named, so I wish to express my

I share your unease deeply. I too cannot keep my mouth shut because
authentic learning is my mission. We are doing great wrongs and should
heal our management as soon as possible otherwise the patient may end up
dead. It is not merely education which suffers this pseudo-management by
"unit operations", but many other complex social systems like the health
care system.

I think that once we are able to see the "rich picture", we will become
aware how mortally ill the patient already is. Were it not for the
artificial means by which the patient is kept alive, perhaps death would
set in. Is it not already the case in some sub-continents like Southern

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> 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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