Subject: LOs and Metanoia - a Further Note on Metanoia LO27328

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 10/01/01

Replying to LO27316 --

Dear Organlearners,

Artur Silva <> writes:

>I am referring to At de Lange's distinction between
>"digestive learning" and "emergent learning". I think
>that At would agree that "digestive learning" can be
>related with Piaget's "assimilation" concept, with
>"normal science, and with "first order changes" and
>"emergent learning" with "accommodation", "scientific
>revolution" and "second order changes".

Greetings dear Artur,

Thanks for another compelling contribution on metanoia.

Yes, I certainly agree. Our university library has, relative to a
developing country, a vast collection of books on education.
Unfortunately, we have not many books older than 100 years. Nevertheless,
it is indeed an eye opener to search for authors who had been aware of
these two asymptotes of learning -- "capitalising on the past" (digestive
learning) and "spending capital on the future" (emergent learning).

I use the desriptions "capitalising on the past" and "spending capital on
the future" because there are a plethora of names by which each has been
called. Should we ever try to name these two asymptotes by the rule of
priority, it will be gigantic task to find out who used whatever names
first to denotate them.

As I understand it self, there is a general, even though complex pattern,
along which all physical and spiritual systems "complexify" during the
course of time. In the case of living organisms this pattern is called
"evolution". (In the case of learning I prefer to call it "authentic
learning".) People (including most experts) usually have a one-sided view
of evolution. Those people who think of evolution as "capitalising on the
past" have a Lamarckian viewpoint while those who think of evolution as
"spending capital on the future" have a Darwinian viewpoint.

It is very interesting that few people have a comprehensive outlook on
evolution which involves both the Lamarckian and Darwinian viewpoints.
Furthermore, those who do have such a comprehensive outlook usually
consider the one as more important than the other. However, once we begin
to search for the role which each asymptote play in regulating the "free
energy" of the system, it becomes imperative to consider both as equally
important, even though they are so vastly different.

It will be helpful if we bear in mind this lack of a comprehensive outlook
in other kinds of complexifying systems such as a learning system. I think
that this is where the value of the concept metanoia lies since a
comprehensive is one of the metanoesis.

>I think that when one talks about LOs it's crucial to
>clarify that an organization (or community) that is very
>good at single-loop learning (or "digestive learning", as
>At would say) but bad at double-loop learning
>("emergent learning"), will probably not be able to adapt
>to profound changes in the environment, as the ones we
>now experience regularly.

I think it is not as easy as that. For a person inclined towards
"capitalising on the past" the first loop will definitely be "easy
digestive learning" while the second loop will probably be "difficult
emergent learning". But for a person inclined to "spending capital on the
future" the first loop will definitely be "easy emergent learning" while
the second loop will probably be "difficult digestive learning". In other
words, the roles will switch. The best example of the latter case is Leo
Trotsky -- the eternal revolutionist. He was so hooked on revolutionary
transformations that eventually even Stalin branded him as the greatest
danger to their Revolution.

When I help a learner who has serious learning problems, one of the first
things I do is to seek whether the learner is hooked onto either
"capitalising on the past" or "spending capital on the future". I do not
only enquire into the learner's learning, but all his/her creative actions
to make a final assesment. Let us take art and specifically painting as an
example. A learner hooked onto "capitalising on the past" and who also
paints, will paint only, say, landscapes and finishes all of them. But a
learner hooked onto "spending capital on the future" and who also paints,
will paint many kinds of pictures while seldom finishing any of them.

Here in South Africa roughly 1 out 4 learners have a serious problem on
this issue. (These figures are based on my memories of past experiences
rather than keeping notes from which an exact statistical analysis can be
made.) Furthermore, for those who have a problem in this issue, roughly 9
out of 10 is hooked on "capitalising on the past" rather than "spending
capital on the future".

It is also interesting that the family and community to whom the learner
belongs, have a influence on which asymptote the learner got hooked. The
more the family and community are displaced to an extremistic or
fundamentalistic world conception, the easier this intolerance gets a
learner hooked on one of the asymptotes. Again, the influence is not a
"one-to-one" relation, but a "one-to-two" relation. Sometimes the learner
conforms to the conception of the family and community, but sometimes the
learner rebels against it. Usually there are a few profound incidents
early in that learner's life which determine whether the learner will
conform or rebel.

As I myself understand it, the first loop of learning involves learning of
many things other than learning. The second loop of learning involves
learning of learning as well as learning of other complexifying processes
too. A learner who got stuck in the first loop will not be aware whether
he/she got hooked on either "digestive learning" or "emergent learning". A
learner who also do second loop learning will immediately recognise both
asymptotes of learning when they are explained by metaphors making sense
to that learner.

A learner who stays mostly in the first loop of learning will find the
paradigm of simplicity sufficient for his/her purposes. A learner who
frequently visists the second loop of learning will sooner or later shift
to the paradigm of complexity.

Occasionaly I have found learners who got stuck on the second loop of
learning. They will spend far more time trying to learn how to learn
rather than learning in the first loop of many other things too. I have
immense compassion for them because they are usually people who want to
please or care for other people with their learning. They each, male or
female, is for me the "Martha" of their family or community. They want to
serve, but get comsumed up by that very service and the preparation for it
because they do not understand what it takes to serve, namely a sound
harmony between the first and second loops of learning. They are usually
victims of the "free energy vampires".

>If "learning is transformation", "double-loop
>learning is profound transformation", profound
>paradigm shift, hence, metanoia.

This I agree fully to. But have you ever observed how members in Ordinary
Organisations (OOs) can hinder and even destroy these metanoia by judging
them with whatever label they find as derogatory. For example, they may
claim that the person with metanoia is too religious, too much a
philosopher, too much a mystic, too much a heretic or too much plagued by
the moon. The igorance of these members is the main reason why there are
so little metanoia in that OO.

Yet we ought to have much compassion for the ignorance to metanoia of
these members of the OO. They will have such ignorance when they are
forced to "sit on one and only one chair", "walk in one and only one pair
of shoes" or "wear one and only one hat" during their entire stay at such
OOs. In other words, excessive disciplinary thinking with a total lack of
transdisciplinary thinking prevents any awareness to emerging metanoia.

A book with an astounding focus on this lack of metanoia is the prophecy
of Ezekiel in the Torah or Old Testament of the Bible. Ezekiel uses the
metaphor of a valley covered with bones to describe this absence of
metanoia in the organisation which he is concerned with, namely the exiles
in Babylon. He then tells how flesh comes upon these bones and how they
become living humans once the metanoia has emerged. Ezekeil goes so far as
to pinpoint who is responsible for the absence of metanoia. It is the very
leaders of that organisation -- (see Ezek 34).

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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