What is "Culture"? LO20138

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Wed, 9 Dec 1998 09:51:24 +0200

Replying to LO20110 --

Dear Organlearners,

Mike Beedle <beedlem@fti-consulting.com> wrote:
(In reply to my)

>>In fact, we do not have such a subject which reflects the
>>whole of the physical (material world), living and unliving.
>>In other words, we do not have a subject which reflects the
>>whole of all the fields of natural studies. I believe that
>>this lack of wholeness in the SUBJECT is a serious deficiency
>>once we realise that wholeness is essential to the OBJECT
>I disagree. Yes we do, it is called philosophy. That' why
>Newton, Kepler and Galileo were called philosophers.
>When I went to school a few years ago, I asked one of my
>professors why I had to study so many different subjects to
>a my Ph. D. The answer was blunt: "because", he said,
>"you are getting a philosopher's degree".

Greetings Mike,

I wish that what you have written is true to a large extent for modern
times and will be true for the future.

How I long for a SUBJECT (say ABC) whose principal source of information
is the OBJECT nature+culture -- a subject which function on the two legs
"natural ABC" and "cultural ABC".

Unfortunately, especially during this past twentieth century, philosophy
increasingly did not qualify for ABC. The problem with philosophy is that
the SUBJECT (the commentaries of philosophers) had become to a large
extend the object of study, thus replacing the principal OBJECT of study.
Philosophers can talk for hours on end what Habermas or Latakos said. But
most of them shy away from the information which is radiated directly from
the OBJECT as "black box". (The work of Max Planck on black body
radiation and his subsequent discovery of the quantum effect has profound
metaphorical value here.) This is one of the reasons why, after WWII,
"philosophy" was increasingly replaced by systems thinking in which the
focus is on the OBJECT and not the SUBJECT.

But what has happened to systems thinking as the successor? Russel Ackoff
caused a furore when he exclaimed that systems thinking is dead. Flood and
Jackson tried to save the face of systems thinking with their concept of
"total systems intervention". But what they actually did, was to shift the
focus from the OBJECT to the SUBJECT. Thus it appears to me that systems
thinking is losing its grip on the OBJECT just as it was the case for
philosophy which had a much longer life time.

What can we learn from all of this? I want to stress only three
1 We should try to find the reason why philosophy and
systems thinking behave in this manner. This reason
will be extremely valuable in trying to avoid it happening
2 We should study both the OBJECT and the SUBJECT
as a complementary dual, but keep our focus on the
OBJECT as the principal source of information. In the
era of information technology it will become increasingly
difficult to do so.
3 In all religions which distinguish between Creator and
Creation, it will becomes fundamentally important to
identify the OBJECT in one of the next four possibilities:
(1) only Creator, (2) only Creation, (3) both Creator and
Creation, (4) neither Creator nor Creation.

In the study of nature up to now it was relatively easy to distinguish
between the OBJECT nature and its SUBJECT (made up by physics, chemistry,
biology, etc.). In the study of culture it was more difficult to make such
a distinction because of the "dog biting its own tail" as I have explained
in my earlier contribution and to which Fred Nichols added so vividly.

But -- please fasten your seatbelts for we are now switching over to warp
drive -- once we discover a "law" which applies equally well to both the
material world of the brain and the abstract world of mind, we will be
caught up in an unprecedented paradigm shift with unprecedented conceptual
difficulties. A NEW SUBJECT will emerge with this "law" as its foundation
while both the former OBJECT and SUBJECT will become as two dual
subsystems the NEW OBJECT. In other words, nature+culture as the object
and our studies of them as the subject will become the NEW OBJECT.

Do not loosen your seat belts -- to make matters even more complex, the
NEW OBJECT and the NEW SUBJECT can even switch roles in the sense that
this "law" becomes the object while nature+culture+studies become the
subject which explains, describes and predicts how the object behaves! In
other words, this gives an idea what will apply when Fred says that
culture is only subject.

How do I know this? Prigogine discovered that "entropy production" causes
all the changes in nature resulting in different organisations
(structures). He may be right (this is why he was awarded the Noble Prize
for chemistry in 1977) or perhaps he is wrong (as the battle between
vested interests during a paradigm shift illustrates). I have discovered
during 1982-83 that "entropy production" also happens in the abstract
world of mind, how strange that may sound. I believe that this "entropy
production" causes all the organisational changes of the human mind and
thus of culture, based on my studies the past fifteen years. Maybe I am
right or perhaps I am wrong. But my experiences in having to work with at
least one cause for all changes in both nature and culture -- for both the
material and spiritual world, gave me a glimpse in this "unprecedented
paradigm shift with unprecedented conceptual difficulties".

In a hundred years from now, supposing that this dispensation lasts so
long, the answers to Sabine's question "What is Culture?" will be quite
different from the answers given today. I can give you no better example
than chemistry. This year is the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the
electron. The chemistry of the past 100 years differs immensely from the
chemistry (and alchemy) of all the previous centuries. Ask today's
chemists to give an account of today's chemistry without using the concept
electron even once and they will stare at you as if you are crazy. If
someone would have asked more than 100 years ago the chemists of those
times to give an account of chemistry in which the unknown concept xyz
(the electron) would play an essential role, they would have thought such
a question to be just as crazy.

>And that's why we use the name "universities", because their
>education is supposed to be universal and whole.

Mike, I appreciate your use of the word "supposed". I have much hope for
our universities (but not in the way they function now). The reason is
that there is an innate wholeness when we look at the entire academcial
spectrum. I mean by "innate wholeness" that the academy (the total sum of
all universities all over the world) covers virtually all aspects of
REALITY, the whole of all wholes. What I do not find in academy, is the
reflection of the wholeness of the OBJECT in the SUBJECT. In other words,
what I find in academy is that its subjects are fragmented to the point
that there is little coherency and consistency between them.

Wow, what has this at all to do with Learning Organisations?

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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