What is wisdom? LO28445

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 05/09/02

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

I am unwise enough to type the following thoughts about wisdom into
cyberspace. I do not fish for compliments because I am just trying to
understand the nature of wisdom.

I was studying the Analects. It is a compilation of the wise sayings of
Confucius and his followers over a period of some two centuries. We know
that these sayings have been formulated and collected in China more than
two millennia ago. Thinking of a culture so long ago and so different from
our own, how is it possible that we can recognise wisdom in these

For example, in 2.2 we have:
"The Master said, the gentle person is broad and not partial, but
the little person is partial and not broad."

The "partial" is for me a reflection on LEM (Law of Excluded Middle). LEM
is one of the axioms of present day logics used so much in science and
mathematics. LEM means that we must choose between black and white, but
that we cannot choose for any shade of grey (black and white). The worst
of all, we cannot decide with LEM whether its "black" is but a darker
shade of grey while its "white" is but a lighter shade of grey.

The "broad" is for me a reflection on LPC (Law of Pliability of
Complexity). LPC means the more complex a system becomes, the more it can
adapt to the many different changes in the environment it is subjected to.
LPC means that we ought to complexify ourselves to strengthen our
adaptation. For example, the more complex an animal species, the more it
can adapt itself to changes in the ambient temperature.

Look how Confucius said in one brilliant sentence which takes me three
(including this one) paragraphs to explain (partially ;-) He opposes
"gentle" to "little". Both refers figuratively to a simple spirit. (Gentle
comes from the Latin "gentilis" which means to be- long to a heathen
tribe.) But in the case of gentle the complexity of spirit has been hidden
away so that only what is necessary is revealed.. He seems to know the
circularity of LEM. This he softens by taking not one, but two properties
for comparison. The one property he expresses positively, namely the broad
minded person. The other property he expresses negatively, namely the
partial minded person. In the gentle person he puts the positive broad
first, but in the little person he puts negative partial first.

How can we become wise? I think it begins by respecting creativity.
Creativity involves a creator which creates. By creating self we will
experience what it takes to be creative. To create is to learn. Hence the
next step is to respect creative learning. Such learning not only result
in knowledge, but also go beyond it to the formation of character. Thus
the following steps are to explore the formation of the whole personality.

Are all sentences with few and simple words are wise sayings? No, the
words must be ordered in such patterns that the sentence tells of wisdom
and not merely formal knowledge. It is not merely the few and simple words
which articulate the wisdom, but also the arrangement of these words.
These patterns created among the few words help us to make choices of a
well formed character.

People of all ages can learn. The LRC (Law of Requisite Complexity)
requires that we should take people of all learning ages into
consideration. A wise saying has to be recognised just as much by someone
with a juvenile knowledge as someone with an advanced knowledge. Thus a
wise saying have to use simple words economically. It has to be formulated
like a small poem, all in one sentence.

Every sentence is nothing else but information. Most of them inform us of
tacit knowing which emerged into formal knowledge. We read these sentences
only once, one after another. But some sentences let our mind go back over
them several times before proceeding further. They inform us of formal
knowledge itself having emerged into sapient knowledge. It is almost as if
they can exist on their own. But they exist upon our common knowledge
because we have similar bodies and share one world through our sensations.

Wise sentences help us to proceed beyond the faculty of knowledge to the
higher ordered faculties of our spirituality like character, faith and
love. For example, ethics belongs to faculty of character. The saying of
Confucius reminds us not to judge hastily for ethical purposes between
right and wrong. Our own partiality and narrow mindedness may stand out
like warts in our judgements. These warts tell that we lack in learning.

Wise sentences also help us to delve into the faculty of creativity
beneath knowledge. We learn how to create essential tensions and their
resolutions by the patterns formed among their words. For example, in two
words like "gentle" and "little" we have much the same identity, but vast
differences in context. This categorical difference between "gentle" and
"little" creates meaning to the word order of "broad" and "partial".

According to the careful analysis of the scholars E. Bruce Brooks and A
Taeko Brooks, 17 of the hundreds of Confucian sayings can be ascribed to
Confucius himself. The rest had been formulated and compiled by various
followers of him for some two centuries. If this is true, give and take
about another 17 which got lost, then it took Confucius about a year to
formulate each wise saying. The same seems to apply to his followers.

We can speculate on various reasons why it took such a long time to
formulate each saying. I personally think it takes hundreds of times to
write each saying over and over, every time reflecting on it to save some
words, to improve on ordered patterns among the remaining words and to
make sure that the saying strikes every kind of hearer with its profound
wisdom. The wise saying has to permeate every faculty of the spirit and
not merely knowledge. It has to foster a greater spirituality in the
hearer as well a better conduct for the well being of society.

Let us consider authentic learning. If I had been one of Confucius'
followers I could say "The Master said, to learn is to create". Is this a
wise saying? It has few words. It might even compel learners to think
twice. But I do not think it is a wise saying because it has too little
patterns among the words in it. It lacks the quality of a poem. It is for
me just a basic fact, a tenet of human becoming

Let us consider creativity. When I say "The Master said, entropy
production causes creativity", it is plain foolish. The reason is that few
people know of entropy, what to speak of the primordial entity "entropy
production" (two words, one concept). Even for the few knowing "entropy
production" its causality with creativity is not obvious.

Entropy production is the arrow of time. Let us then consider time. Should
I have said a century ago "The Master said, to learn is to create", I
think it would not had the same effect as today. A century ago words like
creator, create, creation, and creative had strong meanings. But there was
no focus on creativity since the word was used very little up to fifty
years ago. WWII changed it all. This shows that the master of wisdom have
to study how long a word has been used to focus on something crucial.
Since a fashion word comes and go, it has no place in wisdom.

This brings me to the concept of a "Learning Organisation" (LO). Peter
Senge articulated this concept first about a dozen years ago. Since then
many began to use it as a buzz phrase. Some are now even convinced that it
has served its time so that it is unwise to use it any further. Others
need a new buzz phrase to sell on the market of managerial models.
However, we still have to question whether there is any wisdom in a LO.
For me an organisation becomes a LO when it becomes a wise organisation.
So if anyone needs a new buzz phrase to sell, here is one -- the WO (Wise

Is the "Learning Organisation" a buzz phrase? My first experience with a
"tacit LO" began 29 years ago and lasted for three years. I call it a
"tacit LO" since only 17 years later Senge articulated the LO concept
formally. Presently I am involved with another "tacit LO" -- our Bible
study group. Except for me, this "tacit LO" knows nothing of Senge's work.
How can the "Learning Organisation" be a buzz phrase when it describes
fittingly the nature of some organisations? I think it is wise to describe
organisations with such a nature as closely as possible.

Why do I keep this "tacit LO" in the dark by not telling the other members
that we are formally known as a Learning Organisation? At first I could
not do it because we were all so busy with our delightful study that there
was no time to tell it. Then I began to njoy observing how this "tacit LO"
manifests the five disciplines. I knew that should I tell the others, it
will change the way in which they behave. Now I think I will waste our
time to tell it because telling about a LO takes a lot of time. Does this
makes me wise? I wonder.

Sometimes I wonder whether it is wise to tell an OO (Ordinary
Organisation) what is a LO in order to convince it to transform into a LO.
Deeds come before words for such words to describe these deeds
convincingly. For example, I can talk my head off about "entropy
production" to many, but few, if any, will become convinced of its nature.

How then did I become convinced of its profound nature? Well, I had to
learn how to make the many measurements needed for it and then combine
them by calculations into "entropy production" as result. By doing it for
many diverse systems I began to learn how it drives the emergence of many
phenomena. That is why I can talk about it. Similarly, I think that an OO
just has to begin doing what a LO does. Talk about the doing and do not
talk about the LO with no doing to sustain it.

See, I have use "entropy production" again! That is unwise. When I used it
first, it made me think of time because it is time's arrow. Thinking then
of time made me think of space. Only now do I have time to consider space.
Einstein set us the wise example by thinking of space and time together in
events as "space-time events". We saw above that wisdom has very much to
do with a deep awareness to time. Time will later come for me to show how
much wisdom also has to with timing and thus the essentiality fruitfulness
("connect-beget"). But I want to beg a little bit more of your time to
show how much wisdom has to do with space.

Timing means to focus on a particular "point of time". But it is actually
an interval of time lasting for the space-time event. The time interval is
usually so small that we think of it as a "point of time". Like "timing
the time" we can also "spacing the space". It is to focus on a particular
"point of space". But it is actually a region of space in the space-time
event. We are better aware of this "spacing the space" than in the case of
"timing the time" because we call this region a place. We use the word
place daily. Wisdom has very much to do with place.

Should you read my signature, you will see that I live in a place called
Pretoria. But should you ask me where I live, I will answer that I live
really in our "tacit LO" every Thursday evening. The last two Thursday
evenings we had to give up our regular meetings for other more important
things which came about as a result of the doings of our "tacit LO". We
became painfully aware how we had to give up the place where we live to
foster new life. What a creative collapse!

Is it wise to consider the Learning Organisation (LO) as the place where
we really live? Since any human organisation consists of humans, how can
we refer to a LO as a place, a region in space? However, wherever those
humans of an organisation go with their doing, they define a region. They
are "spacing the space". The difference between a LO and an OO (Ordinary
Organisation) is that a LO is also "timing the time". Its members are
conscious of not only spacing, but also of timing. How is this possible?

Members of a LO are learning as individuals and in teams. One of the most
valuable concepts I have ever learned as a teacher, is Copei's concept of
the "fruchtbare Moment" (Fruitful Moment -- FM). The teacher has to guide
the learner in a specific act of learning only when the time is ripe for
it, i.e. "timing the time". To begin with that learning before the FM
usually causes its abortion. To begin with that learning after the FM
bereft it from its power. To drink wine which has not yet fermented is
drinking juice. To drink wine which had been left open too long is
drinking vinegar. Care and age are the keys to the FM.

In the case of the LO every member is both teacher and learner for the
self and for others. As a teacher each member has to learn when this
"timing the time" arrives for the self and for the others. To recognise
the FM and to act upon it. To employ the essentiality fruitfulness
("connect-beget"). This is only possible when we know the other six 7Es
(seven essentialities of creativity).

For example, wholeness ("identity-context") is one of them. When there is
not sufficient wholeness in a learning event, the learning will abort,
even should the FM presented itself. It is for this reason that we have to
care for all 7Es, ensuring that we grow in each of them. If one of them is
seriously impaired compared to the rest, then we will have to pay
particular attention to it so that it can catch up with the rest.

Events all over the world the past year and particularly the past couple
of months make me deeply worried how many people are aware that otherness
("quality-variety") is crucial for constructive creativity. When various
peoples are not aware to how otherwise they are too each other, they drift
so apart from each other so that they begin to maim and kill each other.
It is not sufficient to know how different another person is to you. Know
also how different you are to that other person.

How is this possible? By getting into a learning dialogue with that
person. What is the FM in this case? We might say that it is the awareness
among both parties that they are drifting apart. But this awareness merely
concerns wholeness, a knowing that wholeness is getting seriously
impaired. Trying to act upon the FM (which involves fruitfulness) leaves
the five other 7Es (liveness, sureness, spareness, otherness and openness)
out of the learning dialogue. Anyone of them, or even more, may also be
seriously impaired.

What will the effect be of this? Hostility, denigration, intimidation,
victimisation, terrorism and even war. They are all acts of destructive
creativity. It is no use to command both parties or each party itself to
stop with these destructive acts. These acts are symptoms and not causes.
The cause is a serious impairing of some and perhaps all of the 7Es. It is
no use to command peace among the parties. Peace has to be worked for as
an outcome. It is the outcome of growing in each of the 7Es.

Is it time to pray? Many of the religious will say yes, yes, yes. But
should you ask them what is prayer, the majority of them will answer that
it is to ask their God for miracle. Yes, sometimes God gives that miracle
prayed for. But as for myself, God has taught me to work for miracles.
Each such a miracle is preceded by fractal path of learning events, a
"Steigerung" as Goethe would have called t. And each miracle has to
proceed by a Steigerung" to the next miracle. One of the greatest miracles
is that a human can become aware of this Steigerung through learning
events. It is what can make humans different from animals.

My own prayers are usually of two kinds. In the one kind I struggle to
articulate my tacit knowing to God. They are prayers of learning. Where I
fail to do so, I know that the Holy Spirit will articulate what I could
not. In the other kind I thank God for his deeds (past, present and
future). They are prayers of the outcome of learning. My prayers (unlike
my writings;-) are short. In my mother tongue Afrikaans we call them
"skiet gebede" (shot prayers). A lot of them get shot off like bullets in
a war. The only difference is that I am not at war with God anymore.

I think that the ultimate of wisdom is to work for peace and love in a
creative manner. Peace and love are miracles worthy to work for.

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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