Personal Mastery -- Sand or Rock. LO25608

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 11/09/00

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all you fellow learners.

I want to share with you a physical system which as metaphor can help us
in understanding Personal Mastery holistically. But first we will have to
study the system.

In the recent topic "Homeostasis and Rheostasis", Leo Minnigh gave the
sand dune as an example of a system which can have stable or labile
equilibria. He mentioned the angle which the slope of the sand dune has.
When a stable dune is formed newly, its slope angle has a maximum value,
called the Richter angle. Leo, thank you for your input!

The sand dune is at a labile equilibrium when its slope is steeper than
the Richter angle. The downwards acting gravitational force is still
balanced by the upwards acting frictional force as in the stable
equilibrium. But as soon as one grain of sand begins to roll down the
slope, an avalanche of sand can be triggered. It happens because this
rolling grain lowers the frictional forces acting upwards on its
motionless neighbours.

The Richter angle of the sand dune may be increased by wetting the sand
with water. The capillary forces in the pores partially filled with water
pulls the sand particles together. The gravitational force now has to
overcome both the capillary and frictional forces. People playing at the
beach make use of this increased Richter angle by building structures with
wet beach sand. But as the pores in the sand get more filled with water,
the capillary force eventually decreases. The free water in the pores may
also lubricate the surface of the sand particles so that even the
frictional force begins to decrease. Hence, as the steep slope gets
wetter, an avalanche will suddenly form. The structure will collapse into
an almost flattened sand heap because of the very small Richter angle for
completely wet sand.

The Richter angle of a sand heap may also be increased by filling the
pores between sand particles with wet cement which is then allowed to dry
out. Actually, immediately after mixing, the Richter angle of the wet
mortar (mixture) is very low. However, the cement reacts with the water to
form positive metal ions and negative silicate ions. These ions combine to
form a network of metal-silicates bonding the remainder of the cement
powder and the sand particles together. These metal-silicate bonds are
orders stronger than the frictional or capillary forces. Thus the plastic
mortar is transformed into almost solid rock since solid rock itself is
made up by such metal-silicate bonds. Consequently the Richter angle of
the cured mortar increases up to 90 degrees. This, for example, allows us
to cover the vertical walls of our buildings with a permanent layer of

Cement itself is made by grinding lime, sand and alumina together into a
fine powder. The powder is then mixed with water into a slurry. The slurry
is heated in a kiln where it breaks up into lumps as it dries out. These
lumps are heated further to a white hot temperature. They are then allowed
to cool off before, now self rocks, they become grinded again into a
powder which is the cement. The fuel used to heat the kiln and raw slurry
is powdered coal. It burns as rapid as any liquid fuel. One day, when the
coal reserves have become depleted like other fossil fuels, it will be
impossible to manufacture cement. That day the era of concrete structures
will be of the past.

When a person learns, small units of topics are mastered. Each such a
small unit may be identified by a learning objective. Each such a small
unit is like a grain of sand. In other words, the person's learning is
like adding sand, grain by grain, to the previous heap of sand. The
person's knowledge is like this heap of all previously added grains of
sand. The knowledge can be a loose aggregate like a sand heap or a solid
rock like sand-cement mortar.

When the knowledge is a loose aggregate of units, it behaves like a sand
heap. When dry units of the topics get loaded on top of each other, some
will role off to the bottom when the slope is greater than the Richter
angle. But when wet units of the topics get loaded on top of each other, a
much steeper slope can be obtained since the Richter angle is greater.
Small bits of general information (obtained from information media like
periodicals, radio and internet or at tea break and in a pub) act like
water molecules wetting the grains of sand. These bits of information
keep these units of knowledge together by weak forces like the capillary
force of water does to the grains of sand.

When the person with knowledge as a loose aggregate gets deluged by
information, it is like saturating the heap of sand with water. Although
the Richter had increased in the beginning, it lowers dramatically as the
saturation level is approached. The person's knowledge becomes unstable so
that it flattens out to regain stability. Thus the free energy of most
grains gets reduced much in one avalanche.

Something similar will happen when the person's knowledge dries out
because of information evaporation. It is like a wet heap of sand drying
out. The stable steep slope had been formed in the wet state for which the
Richter angle is large. The drying out decreases the Richter angle. The
steep slope becomes unstable. Sooner or later there will be an avalanche
of knowledge units so that the slope can stabalise itself to the lower
Richter angle. The dry heap of sand will not flatten out as much as in the
case of a fully saturated heap of sand.

For the person with knowledge as a solid like mortar of sand and cement,
nothing of the above can happen when the information status of the
environment changes. That knowledge retains the shape into which it was
formed originally. Knowledge as a solid is obtain by applying fresh mortar
in thin layers, each layer almost as thin as the thickness of a grain of
sand. Whereas each learning objective results in a grain of sand, the
broader learning goal results in the thin layer of fresh mortar. Again the
grains of sand in the layer of mortar are the small units of topics. But
the much smaller particles of cement powder are the "heat treated"
experiences of that person gained during mastering the goal. Both the
units of learning (like grains of sand) and units of experience (like
cement powder) are wetted with information (like water). The ensuing
reaction produce very strong metal-silicates bonds which keep the grains
of sand and cement powder together.

What are these "heat treated" experiences? It is raw experiences which are
subjected to intense entropy production so as to reach the edge of chaos
(white hot temperature). It happens when the person questions these raw
experiences from all spiritual levels -- emotional, intellectual and
affectional -- to become experential knowledge. It will not happen when
any labile equilibrium (homeostasis or rheostasis) is forced upon these
raw experiences. In other words, experential kwnoledge will not emerge
when the significance of these raw experiences is denied or xcluded
because of some Mental Model.
Each learning objective provides for a grain of sand. Each learning goal
provides for a thin layer of fresh mortar. The person will have to add at
some places on his/her knowledge profile several layers of mortar to let
that places bulge out. This is how that knowledge gets a recognisable
form, i.e. becomes a sculpture. To know at which places the next thin
layer will be added, the learning mission is needed. The mission requires
a complementary vision. This vision is a mental image of the final

When we learn, we produce knowledge like a loose aggregate or like a solid
rock. Knowledges as loose aggregates may differ in content (size) from
person to person, but otherwise in form they look very much the same --
like heaps of sand. Knowledges as solid rocks will have been sculptured
into a diversity of forms. Here the differences in content (size) become
fully complemented by the differences in form -- because these forms image
anything imaginable.

Just as the person sculptures his his/her knowledge by using learning
objectives, goals and mission, the person sculptures his/her other levels
of spirituality like creativity, faith and love. For example, the person
will use creating (rather than learning) objectives, creating goals and
the creating mission for mastering creativity (rather than knowledge). The
objectives, goals and mission form the three main categories of
competency. This competent sculpturing at all the levels of spirituality
is a metaphor for Personal Mastery. The sculpture of that person which
hence becomes gradually revealed, is known as the personality. How often
does a person not produce a personality like a Rodin sculpture -- some
part is fully complete while the other part is shapeless, if not absent.
It was as if Rodin wanted to question us -- what happens when one category
of competency is absent?

With personalities as loose sand, there will be as many types of
personalities as there are kinds of sand. For example, in the Namib desert
there are four kinds of sand -- coarse sand on beaches, fine sand on
coastal flats, sharp sand on mountains and the ever moving, red Kalahari
sand dunes. But with personalties as solid rocks, merely one kind of sand
can produce sculptures with uncountably many forms. What is needed is
water (bits of information) and cement (raw experiences subjected to
bifurcations at the white hot edge of chaos). With this sand, cement and
water as fresh mortar, anything imaginable can take shape, applying the
mortar layer for layer. But it requires patience to wait for each layer of
mortar to become cured -- for the plastic mortar to become transformed
into solid rock through a network of metal-silicate bonds.

The metaphor above has one serious drawback for me. The resulting
sculptures are rigid -- no change in bodily coordination or facial
features. They cannot walk nor kneel. They cannot frown nor smile. Their
lack of becoming makes them lifeless. So I tried to switch to the metapor
of a living organism with the cell rather than a grain of sand as the
smallest unit of mastery . Any personality as a loose aggreate will look
like a slime mould (rather than a heap of sand) while any personality as a
solid rock will look like a living animal (rather than a rigid sculpture).
However, my knowledge on cell biology is still far too immature to create
a sensible metaphor. Perhaps someone else will want to create this

In the mean time, let us continue sculpturing our personalities with
Personal Mastery. This is essential to whatever organisation we want to
let emerge into a Learning Organisation.

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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