The two legs of a scientist or a science. LO28905

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 07/26/02

Replying to LO28819 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

In his book "The Force of Knowledge" (19) John Ziman sketches the identity
of natural science in its social context. In the preface he wrote the
following about his book:
"You may describe it, if you like, as a teaching scientist's
'do-it-yourself' repair of his own defective education and wounded
conscience, written down for the benefit of others facing the same
problems." It makes me think of myself.

Already as a student some forty years ago I began to wonder what it takes
to make a science. The explanations of my lecturers boiled down to
following: "You set up experiments, make measurements, fit the results
into a theory and convince others that is correct".

After my university training I began to search deliberately what makes a
collection of activities a science. I waded through many books and
journals, catching a glimpse here and there. You fellow learners can do
the same -- ask what makes your favourite subject a science and see what
you get. Gradually, by studying biographies and personal letters of great
scientists in many subjects, I began to get a far better idea of what
makes a science. Tragically, very few scientific publications themselves
give any hint to the answer.

I began to perceive two legs on which any branch of science proceeds.
They are the two mental legs of the scientist. The one leg is impeccable
descriptions of its "objects in action" and the other leg is a sound
understanding of the entire history of that branch of science, involving
theories and applications through all time. I often wondered how I will
tell of these two legs in terms of a greater whole. Writing up my
thoughts on individual and organisational learning gave me the
opportunity to do so. That is why I have linked this essay to the topic
"Uncovering the Act of Organisational Learning LO28819 (Part 2).
< >
Please see in particular figure 4
< >

The descriptive leg of the scientist is based on individual learning. As
many as possible of the five senses are directed towards its "objects in
action" to derive inner sensations. These sensations emerge into
experiences which themselves emerge into tacit knowing. Eventually the
tacit knowing emerges into formal knowing by the very description of these
"objects in action". Descriptions are thus a kind of information.

The historical leg of a science is based on organisational learning.
Descriptions are compared and conclusions are made. Theories, another kind
of information, are proposed to explain past descriptions and predict
future descriptions. Furthermore, problems are identified and solutions
sought, another kind of information. All this information gets documented
and duplicated in script for posterity (any time) to act upon (at any

The descriptive leg and the historical leg, i.e., Individual Learning (IL)
by events and Organisational Learning (OL) by information are intertwined
in what is known as the scientific method. For me it consists of four main
steps. (1) Reflection (IL&OL) -- comparing tacit knowing with information
to find gaps or inconsistencies in information. (2) Experimentation (IL)
-- deliberate and planned individual learning resulting in new
descriptions. (3) Speculation (OL) -- proposing for others how the new
description fits into existing information. (4) Falsification (OL&IL) --
pruning the new proposal in terms of additional experimentation. The fifth
step is step (1) of a new cycle.

The scientific method works good in the "hardcore" sciences (of hard
systems) such as physics, chemistry and geology. But in the "softcore"
sciences (of soft systems) such as psychology, education and management,
it often fails. The reason is not in the scientific method itself as in
the way in which it is applied to obtain signals from a soft system. The
more any system is sustained by many levels of emergence, the softer the
system becomes and the less the signals it sends out during its highest
emergences. Probing aggressively a soft system to get more signals from
its highest order emergences usually destroys such emergences or make them

To counteract this I have developed a method which I call "detached
observation". Basically I learn from the scanty signals coming
spontaneously from the soft system and avoid any interfering for more
signals. I cannot deliberately plan or execute experiments, but have to
wait attentively for soft systems to "tell" of themselves. It requires
patience and prolonged observations. Otherwise I still follow the
scientific method of the "hardcore" sciences.

In the years when I still taught students chemistry, I was immensely
troubled by their incapacity to walk with these two legs. They did not
learn during their school years to walk with even one of these two legs.
Trying to rectify their crawling was even worse. They considered
descriptions as an useless task and thus a waste of time. They wanted to
memorise the most recent information from the boffins to pass their
examinations. They also considered the history of topics as past failures
not worthy for any attention. What they had been trained at school and
what I wanted to teach them were two worlds apart. It took all my wits to
contain their rebellions and focus them on authentic learning. But in the
end they were surprised at their superior performances, although they were
not able to attribute it to walking with these two legs.

Although I am by calling a teacher, I am by nature a learner. After almost
sixty years I am still learning much more than teaching. I meander through
many branches of science (hard and soft) like Goethe, having to cope with
far more information than is possible in a 24 hours day than in his days.
So I had to develop mechanisms ("information management") to deal with the
deluge of information which I subjected myself to. I began to use these
very two legs to make decisions on any source of information, whether a
book or a refereed paper in a journal. (I have also other mechanisms which
I use in my own information management, but will not report on it now.)
Some people may find them heretic, but I decided to disclose them too you.

First I would take a quick look at the bibliography. If the author
referred mainly to information sources less than ten years old, I would
become very wary. Then I would search for authentic descriptions. If they,
after 10% into the document, also lack descriptions I would discard that
information. It takes me a couple of minutes to seek for these two legs. I
might have been guilty of disregarding vitally important documents. But I
have saved myself much time by going pain stakedly through the canonised
hype of information mongering.

I consider any document without these two legs of science as information
mongering relying upon rote learning for its success. I do not want to be
judgemental and negative, but in a world that has become deluged by
information, I have to make swift and prudent choices, how judgemental
they may seem to others. The two legs of science, descriptions based on
individual learning and history of information based on organisational
learning, have enabled me to do so. I think that these two legs pertain to
wisdom, the sapient level of knowing.

I cannot prescribe these two legs to any of you fellow learners. I can
only describe what has worked for me so far, although it makes my
academical life precarious. This gives me even more reason not to
encourage it to you. If you do not swim with the main stream of
information mongering, you must expect at any moment to be pushed out. If
you do swim with it, you must expect a loss in authenticity when going
over a waterfall.

As for me, I consider information mongering as a silly exercise throwing
all individual and organisational learning into the wind. It may provide
an income for some parasitising on the many unweary, but it sustains
neither individual nor organisational learning. It does not continue with
history so that it ends up in oblivion. It does not serve humanity because
it lacks the two legs to do so.

A most interesting and educating task is to study the Fifth Discipline in
terms of these two legs of science to decide how much it is hype talk or
science. The distinction between a science and information mongering is
that the science walks on its two legs. The science may be still be a
staggering toddler, but it has emerged from crawling on all fours.

When should the cultivation of the scientist in a person begins? At
university, secondary school or even primary school? I think it has to
begin at the Kindergarten (2-6) years! Here I refer to Friedrich Froebel.
He studied the work of Pestalozzi seriously (OL). But he realised in terms
his own knowing that the mother of the pre-school child can provide only
for the Individual Learning (IL) of the child. The set-up in a family is
such that the social formation (i.e, OL - Organisational Learning) of the
child is hampered. The child needs several other children of the same age
to interact with.

Like Pestalozzi he also observed carefully children as individuals. The
great characteristic is their restlessness. It begins in the body, then
moving the limbs and finally using the hands and feet. Thereafter the
restlessness proceeds to the mental world as curiosity. They explore
things that can be moved, changed in form and fitted together. During such
explorations they will often speak to themselves. Like Pestalozzi he noted
that all these activities happened spontaneously.

But Froebel's unique contribution in that he also observed children
carefully in interacting in groups. He saw that they need the sympathy of
fellows while becoming increasingly aware of morals directing behaviour.
They also want to share their passions and talk about their family
relationships. They want to surprise their fellows with inventions and
imaginations. They begin to integrate themselves as individuals into a
tiny society. (Today we will say that they begin to harmonise the
Individual Learning and Organisational Learning).

Like others before him Froebel also concluded that children favour games
most. (Today I see game-playing as one of the five ESCs -- Elementary
Sustainers of Creativity). So he invented a course of occupations of which
most were games. Again he took great care that such occupations should not
quench the spontaneity of the children. In these occupations he gradually
introduced children to art (poetry, painting, modelling, singing) and
science (exploring all the senses, inventing by way of experiences, making
comparisons and counting). In all he wanted them to learn how to think and
not what to think, thus developing the scientist, the artist and the
responsible citizen within each of them through their mutual interactions.

The first Kindergarten was opened near Rudolfstadt, but had to close eight
years later because of a lack of funds. Three years later the Prussian
government declared that Kindergarten cannot be allowed. But the
revolution could not be stopped. In England, France, Belgium, Italy and
Austria Kindergarten were opened one by one, organised according to
Froebel's principles. The estimates of those who studied them were far
different from that of the Prussian government a couple of decades

The Kindergarten idea became incorporated into the first few years of
primary school. But the tradition of sitting quietly in nicely ordered
rows observing a teacher performing in front so as to copy him, stopped
its incorporation into further years. Gradually the wholeness in body,
wholeness in mind and wholeness in personality as body and mind become
fragmented. The garden of spontaneous play becomes the cubicles of forced
toil to satisfy the many different needs of society. Those who cannot
afford it are commited to the jungle of the streets where they have to act
badly in order to survive. The one-to-many-mapping of constructive
creativity becomes the one-to-many-breaking of the whole into parts so as
to fit into a broken society -- a society specialised into science, art,
sports, politics, business or religion.

No wonder that Rudolph Steiner began his anthroposophy in trying to
reverse this tide of disintegration. But I think that already in his time
it was not anymore a one person's job, nor that of a few anthroposofic
societies. Reversing the disintegration of society has become an
organisational issue second to none. It will require organisations from
all walks of society to participate as the necessary condition. It will
require such organisations to emerge into Learning Organisations as the
sufficiency condition.

Show me an organisation which care for all the children of its members in
a Froebelian manner and I will show you a Learning Organisation.. I wish I
was there in person to observe carefully the first Froebelian
Kindergartens. I think that I would have concluded that they were "Tacit"
Learning Organisations -- "tacit" because they existed long before Senge
began to describe organisations such as them as Learning Organisations.

Should this essay fly off as LO-dialogue, I would be delighted to see
its fractal course along topics such as:-

The course of science along various civilisations.
What is the relationship between science and art?
What makes a pseudo-science?
Why avoid becoming a scientist?
Who is the scientist?
How many certifications make/break a scientist?
Who is the patron of science?
Who is the ethical guardian of science?
Is there a difference between science education and
scientific education?
Is technology science in action?
Does science stems from technical need?
Is publish or perish the cornerstone of science?
Are scientists the slaves or the elite of society?
"Science must be popularised". Is it a symptom or a goal?
Is science the ultimate power which corrupts absolutely?
Was science, even though centuries ago, responsible for
die-off to come?
Will science save humankind from its inevitable die-off?
Will the Learning Organisation became the cornerstone
of managerial science?

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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