Replying to LO25939 --
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Part I - against Positivism and the "Technical Rationality"
I will try to prove, in the first place, that the logic that governs our
World, our organisations, and our professions, and that is mainly created
by our Universities, based of a Technical Rationality produced in the XIX
century and on a "mechanical, positivistic epistemology of science", is
wrong and is the main cause our civilisation is failing, and, on the other
way, we are finding so great difficulties in creating "learning
organisations". I will not try to criticise only the Universities, or
things that "don't work very well" there - I will try to propose that
their epistemology of science, based in Descartes (divide a problem in
parts, solve the parts and then "add" the solutions) is un-systemical and
fundamentally wrong. Or in a quotation from Polanyi that At de Lange sent
us I will try to prove that "The ideal of strictly objective knowledge,
paradigmatically formulated by Laplace, continues to sustain a universal
tendency to enhance the observational accuracy and systematic precision of
science, at the expense of its bearing on its subject matter". There is
not so much the fact that there are things that don't work well in
universities - is all the epistemology of science that is at the root of
our universities that is completely wrong. Current Universities are not
only unable to solve our problems - they are part of the problem, they are
the fabric of some of our main problems.
That is the reason I began with Polanyi, stressing the importance of the
tacit dimension and tacit knowing and I will continue with Donald Schon's
"The Reflective Practitioner" that takes those arguments a little further.
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Bertrand Russell 'taught' that Descartes reworked the paradigm you
elucidate so nicely by entering into a 'bread oven' during a cold winter.
You will understand that, historically speaking the English have always
had a peculiar relational standing regarding our continental cousins as
'becoming' (them not us) fundamentally 'mistaken' on most things worldly
and wordy and otherwise;-) No matter! To wit this last year, in France, I
was offered by way of overnight accomodation a 'bread over'..."Mr.
Campbell we are sure you will enjoy staying overnight in our cosy
converted 'bread oven'..." Mmmmm. One very British way to cope with the
complexities of a multilingual domain is to shout, Yes! Just keep on
shouting in English. Well, you say, tacitly, what's the use in that. Well,
authentic learning often takes place - in states of confusion - and there
are few things more confusing than being shouted at in a foreign language.
I am not advocating verbal abuse or violence here, nor destructive
creativity. I am just saying that sometimes the world shouts and when it
does it can offer learning. Mmmm. I search through my memory for the
assistance of a story others might be more familiar with than the one I am
about to share, to act as a bridge of sorts. OK I know the one. The story
that I think Senge tells, of the man who fell into a torrent, near some
waterfalls, he struggled with the violence of the water so that it dragged
him down too long keeping him in the downward vortices such as to drown
him. The conjecture on the part of the man outside the chaos watching was,
if that man had not struggled then he would have been carried very quickly
to a much calmer eddy of water as his hat attested to. (I added the hat
element because otherwise there is no build in a satisfactory image form
for the reader without ref. to the original story text.) Artist are, it is
generally understood much more adept at living for periods of time in
relatively high levels of 'noise' and emotional/physical disturbance.
Ossager cross inductions would they be called At? Anyhow, I digress. My
point is to float the idea that massive disturbance is for me the cleanest
way to a matanoiaic re-frame of mind. Arendt, for me anyway expresses with
precision and beauty a communal aspect to metanoia but that is not a road
I want to follow here. I want rather to share Darwin's experience of
metanoia with you.
If popular conceptions of the scientific endeavor call to mind technicians
dressed in white robes in a laboratory somewhere, Darwin's joumey aboard
the Beagle gives us quite an alternative view.
As the Beagle traced its course around the continent of South America,
Darwin explored areas as diverse as the barren Falkland Islands, the
tropical rain forest, the Rio Negro, and the volcanic mountains of Chile.
On February, 20, 1835, Darwin had one of those experiences that change the
character of one's whole life work. While exploring the mountains near
Valparaiso, his imagination was drawn to the solid masses of granite
rising up out of the forests "-as if they had been coeval with the very
beginning of the world." The granite fascinated him because it seem to be
the most basic and fundamental building block in the earth's solid crust.
Penetrating to this basic, geological bedrock seemed to bring one close to
the "classic ground" of creation.
However, as he lay peacefully in a forest near Valdivia speculating about
such impressions of nature, he felt the, shock waves of a major
earthquake. In the forest the drama of the earthquake was shocking
enough, but when I returned to the port at Talcuhano he was horrified to
find that every dwelling place had been demolished. The earth itself had
been rent by deep crevasses, and the granite rock formations, which
formerly appeared so solid and unshakable, had been shattered into
fragments. "An earthquake like this at once destroys the oldest
association; the world, the very emblem of all that is solid, moves
beneath our feet like a crust over a fluid; one second of time conveys to
the mind a strange idea of insecurity, which hours of reflection would
That all things are in a state of change and flux may have been the most
important lesson that Darwin brought home from his long voyage. Darwin's
notebooks give ample evidence of a mind itself going through a process
transformation. His imagination raced from one subject to the next.
Gould as America's pre-eminent writer on Darwinian theory draws upon his
encyclopedic knowledge of the literature to demonstrate that Darwin was
intentionally rereading Malthus following an excursion into the distant
fields of philosophy and economics. Just prior to his re-reading of
Malthus, he read a long review of philosophy Auguste Comte's 'Cours de
philosophic positive'. In this work Comte insists that any useful theory
must be both predictive and, at least potentially, quantitative. Darwin
then read a book on Adam Smith, the economist whose theory of society
focuses upon the actions of the individual as the key element in a market
economy. The work philosopher and an economist lead Darwin next to a
statistician, Adolphe Quetelet, who had applied a statistics analysis to
the now famous and controversial claim of Malthus that the human
population grows geometrically food production only arithmetically, thus
resulting in an inevitable and tragic "struggle for survival." Summarising
these intellectual wanderings, Gould writes, "In reading Schweber's
detailed account of the moments preceding Darwin's formulation of natural
selection, I was particularly struck by the absence of deciding influence
from his own field of biology. The immediate precipitators were a social
scientist, an economist, and a statistician. If genius has any common
denominator, I would propose breadth of interest and the ability to
construct fruitful analogies between fields. In fact, I believe that the
theory of natural selection should be viewed as an extended analogy
conscious or unconscious on Darwin's part."
Companies, eh! Companions, ''share the bread" -- time to 'walk that fine
The future has been 'thrown' (Po Wa Ha) and the 'bigger systems' of which
we are a part and parcel are speaking back AT us. I know some here and
there are 'listening' to the 'old man' world and the 'older woman' earth.
If our power resides in choice these words by Bateson resonate with me.
"By survival I mean maintenance of a steady state through successive
generations. Or, in negative terms, I mean the avoidance of death of the
largest system about which we care. Exctinction of the dinosaurs was
trivial in galactic terms but this is no comfort to them. We cannot care
much about the inevitable survival of systems larger than our own
ecology." Mind and Nature.
Sometimes I have to listen with compassion to the people who, brought up
for a lifetime on a diet of linear short-term profit against 'big mortgage
mentalities' inflationary dependent sensibilties (sic) winnow " -Oh why
don't you give it us simple, so we can understand?" And, you know,
sometimes I shout at these people. Really loud. Removed in space and time
they once were and such like people fit leaders. My increasing perspective
brings one thing into sharp focus, current leaders are not now at all well
fitted to discover and create the conditions for a collective metanoia and
maybe we must find new leaders among ourselves who are or may be. (Mary
Parker Follet called it 'liquid leadership'). Of course the partial truth
is they are often all 'strung up', 'strangled' by positions of status and
wealth not to mention mortgages against the future. There are many kinds
of 'nets' and 'nests' and we have to create new ones. Like the dream
weavers;-) that we are.
At the edge with visions not fear. (Rol Fessenden) 1995;-)
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