Practice in At's Emergent Learning (1) LO17608

Mnr AM de Lange (
Tue, 31 Mar 1998 11:36:36 GMT+2

Replying to LO17560 --

Dear Organlearners and especially Ragner,

Ragnar Heil <>

> > ...Because humankind has tasted the fruit of the tree of
> > knowledge in paradise, but not the fruit of the tree of life.
> You wrote about the "tree of knowledge". Do you mean the famous book from
> Maturana / Varela ? These guys are a kind of fathers of the new system
> theory which deeply influenced sociology, family therapy, consulting of
> companies, LO, education and more.

Ragnar, I cannot help but smile myself. Let me explain. It concerns the
correspondences between a fatal incident in the Garden of Eden, Maturana
and Varella's work and my own work.

The account from the book Genesis (chapters 2 and 3) tells us that many
trees were growing in the garden of Eden (paradise). Two of them are
explictly mentioned: the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge Adam and Eve
were forbidden to eat fruit of the Tree of Knowledge because, should they
do so, they would die. They were free to eat fruit of all the other trees
provided by a loving God, even the Tree of Life. But they have chosen to
eat fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Some people maintain that this incident has actually happened. Other
people claim that it is a metaphor which has been created by Moses to
explain why sin and death became part of reality. Others reject the book
Genesis together with the Torah (for Jews) or Bible (for Chrsitians) as
mythical writings. Whatever the case, the incident depict in a striking
way the behaviour of humans up to this day. Life - that of other humans
and the rest of living creatures - is seldom at top of our list of
priorities. We frequently place even knowledge higher than life on this

One reason why I smiled, is that Maturana and Varella with their book "The
Tree of Knowledge: the biological roots of understanding", took a unique
position, namely that any thinking estranged from living will not result
into everlasting understanding. They believe that our minds have to think
in the same manner as which biological organisms live. If we compare their
book with the Genesis account, it appears as if they are joining the
Genesis' Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life into one tree. It appears
as if they try to correct the once fatal incident made by Adam and Eve.

My position is much more encompassing. Our thinking and thoughts inside us
should not be estranged from anything outside us, inluding life. By
thinking in such a manner, we will experience a transformation of
conciousness. We will, among other things, become conscious of the
universe inside us. For example, I now begin understand why God warned
Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Knowledge, like all
other things, become more complex by the day. However, complexity quenches
the self-organistion of systems with insufficient qualities. I will have
more to say on this later on with respect to self-learning.

Maturana and Varella consider autopoiesis (self-making) as essential to
all life. Prigogine thinks in the same direction by showing that all
living systems are dissipative self-organising systems. The converse is
not true. i.e. there are dissipative self-organising systems which are not
living systems. However, those dissipative self-organising systems do not
have the ability (autopoiesis) to reproduce themselves by making self a

My "self-learning" consisting of "emergent learning" and "digestive
learning", can be considered as dissipative self-organisation with
autopoiesis, but which now happens in the mind. A "part of knowledge"
which is common to us, is the "species". The "specimens" of that species
are that "part of knowledge" as it has emerged and grown in each one of us
through self-learning. For example, the concept of a LO is a species. The
type specimen, the one upon which the species is recognised, is Peter
Senge's specimen as has been described by him in his Fifth Discipline. We
can now either try to clone Senge's specimen by memorising in total what
he had to say, or we can each produce by self-learning our own LO
specimens along the lines which he has followed. The collection of all
these LO specimens is the species.

Another reason why I smiled, is that I when have to help a student who has
lost her/his passion for learning, I usually advise the student to
reestablish her learning by focussing on those things which she LOVES to
commute with. I usually assess, before I give this advice, what those
things are which the student loves to commute with. I make sure that the
student does not confuse this love with curiosity, job satisfaction, work
security, etc (Maslov's hierarchy of needs).

It is extraodinary that in many cases, although the students have lost
their passion for learning, they still have a passionate love for life.
They eat from the modern "tree of knowledge" fruits such as mathematics,
chemistry and physics. But they do not get any nourishment from these
fruits. They realise that their intellectual life is slowly dying. By
helping them to focus on high qualities such as love in general and life
in particular, they become passionate learners again. In other words, I
help them to regain what Adam and Eve has lost in the garden of Eden. They
have to eat fruit of all the trees in the Graden of Eden, especially the
Tree of Life, To eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge without having
sufficient qualities, will lead to death. What more tragic example can we
have than WWII.

Best wishes


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

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