Practice in At's Emergent Learning (1) LO17599

Mnr AM de Lange (
Mon, 30 Mar 1998 13:48:03 GMT+2

Replying to LO17572 --

Dear Organlearnersd,

Winfried Dressler <> writes,

after I have cautioned not to neglect "digestive learning" in fwvour
of "emergent learning":

> What I had in mind was to understand, based on my own experiences, how the
> seven essentialities work together to enable emergences to happen. I
> wasn't sure about how to go through the different essentialities which are
> so much interdependent, so I picked the emergence-happening bifurcation as
> a focus.

Winfried, thank you for the explanation. Now I understand.

I have blundered. I have underestimated your tacit knowledge of the
seven essentialities. I have also viewed your desire in a negative
light. Please forgive me. Let me explain.

I have cautioned against neglecting "digestive learning" in terms of
the essentiality "quality-variety" (rangeness, otherness). It
appeared to me that you were neglecting this essentiality. In other
words, I was expecting an immergence rather than an emergence. This
is a negative attitude.

With your explanation in terms of a "focus", it is clear to me that
you were thinking in terms of the essentiality "connect-beget"
(fruitfulness). Two or more things have to connect effectively for an
emergence to happen. (Allotropic emergences, i.e only one thing
changing into a new form, are very seldom.) If we now take one thing,
say X, as a "focus" and try to find other things with which X can
connect fruitfully, we are complexifying this thing X by way of
mergences. ( This is very powerful method for emergent learning.
Obviously, you wanted to connect the each of the seven essentialities
to emergence as the focus.

The two or more things which have to connect fruitfully must have a
name. What shall we call them? (In chemistry they are called

In organisations this "focus" which you are writing about, is known
as the "vision" of the organisation. In other words, the vision
serves as the common "reactant" of many emergences. It is desired
that all these emergences complexify the organistion for the future.
Thus the vision must be carefully formulated so that
complexifications happen which are indeed beneficial to the
organisation's mission.


> By digesting this dialogue, deep and personal understanding of the
> essentialities may emerge. Of course only if the dialogue takes place. A
> critical role will play time. Although immergences will happen if the
> process is forced, the bifurcation point will not be reached, if the
> process is too slow. And getting a mail today, answering tomorrow,
> waiting a few days for the futher development is too slow for entropy
> saturation and emergences at bifurcation point.

Yes, you have identified a serious problem here. Bifurcations happen
at the edge of chaos. We cannot rely on others people to keep us at
the edge of chaos, for example, by writing something which creates a
tension in relation to our own understanding. There are many reasons
why we cannot realy on others. Two main reasons are the following.
Firstly, if no new tensions (entropic forces) arise, the system will
gradually move away from the edge of chaos back to equibrium. Chaos
thus lost will have to be produced again of we want to be back at the
edge of chaos. Secondly, we may get inundated by chaos not of our own
making. Such chaos usually results in destructive immergences rather
than constructive emergences.

If you desire an emergence with respect to a certain "focus", keep
yourself at the edge of chaos with respect to that focus. How? Create
tensions between that "focus" by comparing it at every possible
opportunity with other things related to it, even if the relation
appears to be very remote and indirect. The best way which I have
found to create such tensions, is to ask questions, especially of the
"if, what" (what if) type. For example, say X is the thing on which
you want to focus and Y is something distantly and indirectly related
to X. Then ask the question: "If X and Y are much more intimately and
closely related than that which I have perceived, what does it

> So what can happen here? The process in the list will be digestive
> learning. Digestive learning about ones own past experiences with
> emergences or immergences. The hope is, that this will help to find the
> propper lever to improve organisational learning in ones environment and
> to develop the necessary passion for managing the complexity we all live
> in (and not to become passive, or to try simplistic reductions).

I can only stress what you have intuitively expressed here. Digestive
learning (growth) can only happen in terms of those emergent
learnings which actually have happened.

To use a metaphor, it is only a germinated seed, i.e. seedlings,
which can grow in a mature plant. The germination of the seed into
the seedling represent the emergent phase. The growth of the seedling
into a mature plant, feeding on water, carbon dioxide and other
nutrients in the soil, represent the digestive phase. Seed stored in
an envelope cannot grow into mature plants, unless they have

Winfired, let me go deeper into this metaphor because there are much
to learn.

I have met many hundreds of people growing plants for the market
(nurserymen) or for the fun of doing it (fanciers). Many of them have
mentioned the "nightmares" which they have because of seed laying
around and which they have not yet planted. It is also a "nightmare"
for me. For example, I have to plant seeds of more than 100 Euphorbia
species in the next two weeks, or otherwise I will have to wait
another year to do so.

There is only one nightmare worse than the former one, namely
for a nurseryman not to have sufficient seeds to sow (not to have
sufficient emergences!) The whole future of his nursery depends on
sowing sufficient seeds of a sufficient number of species every year
on the appropiate months. The seeds which are commonly obtainable and
easily grown, are not the seeds which will ensure the future of the
nursery. The reason is that everybody can get and grow them, thus
forcing a very competitive market. It is the seeds which are very
diffcult to obtain and to germinate (and probably also to grow),
which are vital to the expansion of the nursery.

I have twenty five years of experience in collecting rare seeds in
the wild. Sometimes I have to travel vast distances (up to 3000 km).
In most cases the seed are available only in a very short time span -
usually a week or two. (Remember, birds, insects and small animals
also depend on that seeds.) Often I have to revisit the locality at
several different times of the year to find out exactly when the seed
will be ready. The netto effect is that only after roughly the fifth
visit I might succeed in getting seed. I say "might", because a lot
of things can influence the production of seed in any year (droughts,
locusts, parasites)

Consequently, on many hundreds of occasions I have tried to make
deals with local people to collect the seed for me at a certain
price. I base the price on what it costs me in total (distance
traveled, number of visits, days lost to do other things) to obtain
the seeds. They are often surpised at the high prices I am willing to
pay for the seeds. They usually begin to "count their chickens" even
before I leave. But alas, up to now, of the several hundred of
people, only three have responded (about 1%). For these three people
(and for me) it turned out to be a profitable business.

But for the rest? When I took up matters with them on subsequent
visists, their excuses were bewildering and embarressing to them.
Most of them were still very keen on collecting the seeds (to make
money and to please me), but somehow nothing comes of it. It is only
after I have discovered the seven essentialities and how they
influence emergences, that I have realised what an ordeal I have put
these people through. To collect the seeds when they are ready and
then to send them to me is a complex venture. The readiness to do
this, requires an emergence within the harvesters themselves. Let us
call it the "complex-harvesting-emergence".

These local people cannot experience this
"complex-harvesting-emergence" because of one or more of the seven
essentialities are usually impaired. For example, if the rain comes
one month earlier, the seed will be ready one month earlier. They
will then be too late for the seed ("identity-categoricity" or
sureness). Another example, they may have to compete with birds for
the seed. Thus they will have to collect the seed (which have visibly
ripened during the night) at day break before the birds had a go at
the ripe seeds ("quality-variety" or otherness, rangeness).

How do I solve the problem of obtaining rare seeds? Mainly by growing
seed producing plants myself. Wherever possible, I grow them from
seeds. It often takes 10 years or more of care before a plant grown
from seed can itself produce seed. In other words, I have to prepare
10 years in advance for the complex-harvesting-emergence. Even then,
I must be very careful not to lose an harvesting opportunity myself.
Let me explain.

For example, one of the most exquisite species which I grow, is a
succelent passionflower or grenadilla of the family Passifloraceae.
(Yes, you have read it correctly!). The species' name is Adenia
pechuelii. They are orginally form the remote, harsh regions of the
Namib desert. They are the epitomes for both emergences and
endurances. They can live easily for five years without a drop of

These plants have a fat, green-grey body with straight twigs
coming out of their bodies like the spines of a porcupine. They are
dioecious - meaning that the plants are either male or female. The
male plant make much more and bigger flowers than the female plant.
The flowers of the female plants begin to develop much earlier than
that of the male plants. But when the female flowers have develop
about half-way, they stop developing, waiting for the male flowers to

On a certain day the male flowers open. They give off a pheromone
which stimulate the female flowers to develop rapidly. In less than
24 hours, the female flowers double in size to open the next day. On
that next day both the pollen of the male flower ripens while the
fresh style of the female flower is receptive. Only that day is
pollination possible. On the third day the pollen and the style will
have dried up.

In nature ants are responsible for carrying pollen between the male
and female plants. (Ants are of the most persistent life forms in
the desert.) The ants visit the plants because a few days before the
flowering starts, two glands at the base of every leave secrete a
minute amount of an extremely tasty nectar. The ants are crazy for
this nectar. A few days after flowering, the glands dry up. Weeeks
afterwards, ants still run around on these plants, seeking in vain
for this heavenly nectar.

These plants are streamlined not to waste any water. If too little
rain has fallen, only a few female flowers develop, even without the
plant making any leaves. The female flowers develop halfway as usual.
The male plants need more water to make and develop any flowers. If
it is too dry, the male plants will not flower. Hence the female
flowers will not develop any further because of the abscence of the
pheromones coming from the male flowers. The unpollinated flowers
abort after a week. Thus the females do not set fruit which have to
frow and ripen, using up their reserves.

Unfortunately, these plants have not "learnt" how to cope with the
other possibility, namely too much water. If I give them too much
water before they have flowered, the male plants begin to develop
their flowers simulataneously with the female plants. Their flowers
also develop faster. Thus, it is asy to set flowers on a male plant
before the female flowers have even grown half-way. It also appears
as if the male flowers do not produce pheromones when they get too
much water. Thus this whole process of synchronisation is disrupted.
By whom? Me, for being too anxious to get them to flower, to
pollinate them and thus to set seed. I am too anxious for the seed
to emerge. You can imagine my frustration when I have to wait another
year in order to control my anxiety better.

Germinating the seed is just as difficult. If I wash the juicy pulp
from the seed an plant the seed immediately afterwards, the
germination is abou1 1%. I usually get from 100 to 150 seeds. In
other words, because of my impatience, I get only 1 or 2 seedlings.
So the first thing which I had to discover, is that the seeds have to
age for at least a year to get the germination up to 10%. If I wash
the RED pulp off before aging them, the germination is only 5%. This
was a mystery to me.

Thus I began to experiment by trying to raise the germination by
treating the seed with various chemicals (oxidisers, reducers, acids
and bases). This gave me another additional 5%, nothing more. Thus
I could expect at most a 15% germination rate. So what was the
mystery? One year I left the seed in a small open box in my hothouse
(actually, an aridarium). During autumn and the large drop of
temperature in the nights, a few water drops condences at the roof.
Some of it fell into box, but I did not notice it.

During mid winter when there is not planting to be done, I clean and
tidy the hothouse. When picking up the box, I noticed a few specks of
RED dust lying on the bench. I looked into the box and saw that some
mysterious agent had been cleaning some of the seeds for me. I
carefully placed the box back in its position and added two drops of
water on the seed. I repeated this procees for two weeks before I
observed the mysterious agent - a small ant! So I kept on wetting the
seeds ever so slightly until the ants had cleaned all the seed. That
spring I sowed the seed and the germination rosed up to 70%. I was
delighted. The "dreadful" ants did not only assisted in the
pollination, but also in the germination.

(I say "dreadful" because these ants are hard workers. They carry all
sorts of pests like mealy bugs form one plant to another, using these
pests as their "milking cows".)

The next two batches of seed were lost. The one year pigeons got hold
of the seed, eating them up in less than a day. I was furious and
wanted to kill all pigeons on sight. The other year, after having
made a cage of wire mesh to put over the box to prevent the pigeons
from getting at the seed, mice crept through the holes of the mesh
and again destroyed my whole crop. Again I wanted to declare war on
all rodents. I even contemplated on enlisting snakes in the hot house
to to keep the mice away. Any way, I have managed once again to set
seed (about 200) and to let the ants clean them. From that batch I
got roughly 150 seedlings, my best ever.

I now know what happens in the Namib desert. When the Adenia
pechuelii set fruit, mice, birds and ants compete for the seed.
Obviously, the birds and mice have the greatest share and those seed
are lost forever. But the ants manage to carry a few seed to their
nests under small rocks. Their they nibbel at the pulp until they
have cleaned the seed. When the rain comes, those seed will
germinate, part of the seedling creeping out under the rock. The rock
protects the germinated seedling from the scorching sun. I have made
sure of this by turing over rocks in the vincinty of female plants in
the desert. I have found tiny ant nests, some of them with a seed or
two, and even once a small seedling.

Caring for intellectual emergences are very much like caring for
Adenia pechuellii to set seed and for the seed to germinate.

Best wishes


At de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre for Education University of Pretoria Pretoria, South Africa email:

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