Fast vs slow learning LO22675

AM de Lange (
Thu, 16 Sep 1999 14:38:27 +0200

Replying to LO22593 --

Dear Organlearners,

Leo Minnigh <> writes

>Referring to the contributions of At de Lange; I took his most
>recent principle contribution LO22426 to hook on.
>Dear LO'ers, dear At,
>Let me first compliment you with this beautifully clear
>contribution, Efficiency and emergence LO 22426. It is so
>well constructed, the order is so high; it should have taken
>you lot of free energy!

Greetings Leo,

Thank you for the flowers.

Yes, it took a lot of free energy if we take into account all
the preparative evolution which preceded it.

However, when it began to write it, it simply flowed forth
like a dam wall bursting it. Two communiques from the
management team of our university triggered it. The one
said that the university will have to become much more
efficient to make ends meet. The other one said that the
university will have to become much more innovative to
"position itself in future". Unfortunately, neither of the
communiques referred to the other.

It was as if Janus (that two face god of the Romans) was
speaking himself! Suddenly I recollected how many times
I have seen this happening the past few years in all sorts
of organisations. People want efficiency and emergence
without trying to establish in their Systems Thinking the
relationship between both.

As I said, I simply poured out what I knew. But, while doing
it, I was" looking at myself form over my shoulder" (sounds
wierd!). I was thinking how important the Fifth Discipline
(Systems Thinking ) is. Without the 5th we can at most rely
on our tacit knowledge which, unfortunately, can so easily
be shifted aside by formal knowledge DEVOID of the 5th
itself. I felt the intense need to order my thoughts some day
on the importance of the 5th in the "interdisciplinarity"

>And this is the target of my question. In the past, you have
>several times mentioned that things that grow slowly, will
>have the highest degree of order and the highest amount of
>potential free energy stored. The very slowly grown tree has
>much more energy stored (that might comes released after
>combustion), than the fast grown trees. If we jump from the
>material world to the world of the mind, is there a parallel?
>Does the slow learner have more potential than the fast
>learner? Do we need in our organizations the people who
>have spend 25 years on several levels of education, or is it
>better to attract the people who 'finished' their formal
>education in less than 20 years (the 'smart' guys).
>This seems a simple question with a simple answer: NO.

Dear Leo, you have said it. The question is not simple and
even less is the answer simple.

First of all, I perceive an extraordinary relationship between
the complexity of a system and the time needed for that
complexity to increase in the physical world. Let me give
some examples.

When some elementary particles (each less complex) join to
form a (more complex) subatomic particle, it happens in less
than a billionth of a billionth of a second. When some subatomic
particles (each less complex) join to form a (more complex)
atom, it happens in less than a billionth of a second. When
some atoms (each less complex) join to form a (more complex)
molecule, it takes about a millionth of a second. When
molecules join to form macromolecules (like the enzyme
RNA-polymerases) it takes about a hunderth of a second.
When RNA precursors (polymerases and ribonuclear proteins)
join to form RNA, it takes a couple of seconds. From RNA
to DNA takes minutes, from DNA to new cells hours, from
cells to organs days, .......

I also perceive the same relationship between complexity and
time in systems of the spiritual world. Leo, you also, because
otherwise you would not have been able to question me. When
we question anything, some part of the answer is already
in the question! For example, you asked "is there a parallel?"
Now, part of your question is the context for it which you
have prepared -- slow and fast growing trees. Using this
context you came to your main question "Does the slow
learner have more potential than the fast learner?"

In your context you did something very important, namely
writing in brackets "(that might comes released after
combustion)". What happens with combustion? The chemical
organisation of the tree gets very much changed -- most
molecules get transformed into different molecules!!

I want to ask you a question so that we can keep this
topic alive! This may seem for many fellow learners to
be an esoteric question or even senseless question, but
for me it is a very real one. I hope that you will also
appreciate the question:-

Let us make for one moment two assumptions (see how I
avoid the one-to-many-mapping ;-).
(1) that learning leads to an increase in knowledge and
only knowledge
(2) that the free energy needed for learning comes from
knowledge and only knowledge.
Is it possible to sustain learning without changing the
knowledge already acquired? In other words, can we gain
new knowledge without changing the organisation in the
knowledge already gained?

The following is not my answer, but a rish picture on the
spectrum of answers. In terms of Rote Learning RT the answer
seems to be YES -- every new bit of information is simply
added to the collection of memorised information. In terms
of Authentic Learning AL the answer is NO. Why and how?

The entropy S measures the organisation of a complex
system. The free energy F is that part of the total energy E
not locked up in maintaining the present organisation of the
system. Consequently, the amount of "free energy F" in any
system (or the potential of the system we could also say),
physical or spiritual or both, depends on the complexity of
that system. But the "free energy F" of any system is one
thing and the "change in free energy /_\F" is another thing!
It is not F which gives rise to work or emergences, but /_\F,
the change /_\ in F, the becoming !!!!!

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to have a /_\F without having (making or
allowing) a change in the PRESENT ORGANISATION of the
system. It is impossible to have your tree (slow or fast
grown) and a combustion. The best which you can do when
you want to have both, is to break off all (and only) the dead
branches and twigs of the tree and make your fire with them.

Likewise in learning one has to decide what are dead branches
and twigs in one's knowledge, break them off and make
fire with them. If we go into the very biochemistry of the tree,
we will see that the tree is doing the same kind of thing (not
exactly the same thing). It leaves some biocompounds intact
while transforming others for new compounds (qualities) or
adding (quantities) to compounds becoming consumed.

to let go, the more change in free energy /_\F we will obtain.
Let me illustrate it with trees. Most species of trees are what
botanists would call polycarpic plants. The "poly" means that
the plant will produce produce MANY times during its adult
life FRUIT ("carpus"). But what about olicarpic ("oli"=few)

In South Africa we have an interesting olicarpic tree with the
scientific name "Cussonia paniculata" and the common name
"cabbage tree" (ughhh, what a name for such a beautiful tree.)
It does not make fruit every year. Once in every ten to twenty
years the top of the trunk from which usually many long
stemmed intricate (paniculate) leaves grow, undergoes a major
change. Leaves stop to grow and in their place a huge
inflorecense (complex flower arrangement almost looking
like another kind of tree) develop, taking many months.
Eventually this infloresence carries many thousands of
flowers pollinated by many kinds of insects. Afterwards
many thousands of small purple berries develop which are
devoured ravishingly by many kinds of birds. When the
infloresence finally dies, the tip of that trunk is also dead.
It cannot make new leaves. So usually it develops two shoots
sideways from which new leaves may develop. Thus, by
counting the number of splits (two shoots) or bents (one
shoot), it is possible to determine how many times a
cabbage tree has flowered in its life time.

In Peru there grow a few hundred specimens of a very rare
"tree" called "Puya raimondia" (the "centruy tree"). It is a
zerophytic plant. It is also monocarpic because it flowers
only once. It takes more than a hundred years for this plant
to become mature. Eventually it takes more than a year to
develop a gigantic, beautiful infloresence of several meters
tall. Few botanists have had the opportunity to see it in
flower, visisted by many kinds of birds and insects. Finally
it produces millions and millions of tiny seed scattered in
all directions. Afterwards the whole plant dies. Of all the
seed produced, only a few, if any, will grow into a big plant.

When we want to obtain free energy (i.e /_\F and not F)
from any organisation, even knowledge as an organisation,
we must bear in mind whether it has to be for polycarpic,
olicarpic or monocarpic emergences. After more than half
a centruy of personal experiences and sharing the
experiences of others, I am pretty sure that most people
dont have severe problems with polycarpic emergences.
It is the olicarpic and especially the monocarpic emergences
which causes them so much anguish.

So Leo, let me try to answer your question "Does the slow
learner have more potential than the fast learner?" The
"slow" is somewhat of a red herring. A Cusiona paniculata
with a well developed root system will take approximately
40 years before it flowers the first time. But one which grow
in a thin crack on a solid dome of rock will take 200 or more
years before it is mature enough to flower the first time.

A learner may learn slowly because there are some things
which disable the learning process. See any education textbook
om learning disabilities. The picture so painted is confusingly
complex. It needs Systems Thinking to bring some order.
My theory of "deep creativity" does so. It tells that the
SLOW=DISABLED learning is a result of mechanical
(seven essentialities) and/or dynamical (entropy production)

But a learner may also learn slowly because a very complex
part of knowledge is involved. It is the frequency of fruiting in
emergent (innovative) learning which is now the issue.
Regular polycarpic emergences (such as in one discipline)
happen fast. On the level of learning called research it is
this kind of thing which gets funded -- the more the papers,
the greater the stature. But irregular olicarpic and even
unique monocarpic emergences (interdisciplicary and
transdisciplinary) in learning happen slow -- and so our
learning to appreaciate and fund them duly.

>However, I am curious where the balance lies: when does
>education becomes too long, and where is it too short?

With the above I have tried to put you question into a
richer picture.

>I realise that part of the answer lies in the quality of the
>education. But maybe we can for simplicity think of an
>ideal situation: two similar persons, one 18 years of
>education, the other 25 years of education; the educated
>subjects and schools are similar as well. Who is the best?

I cannot answer that one because too little information has
been given. What is best, rote learning or authentic learning
with its digestive and emergent phases? What is best,
digestive learning (close to equilibrium) or emergent learning
(at the edge of chaos)? If they act as a push-pull pair, what
is best, the pusher or the puller?

Between 16 and 25 or even 36 years of Rote Learning (RL)
there is very little to choose. RL has a linear outcome. It is
perhaps better to choose the 16 years because then another
(40-16)=24 years are available to the employer. But in merely
4, 5 and 6 years (forget about 18 or 25 for a moment) of
Authentic Learning (AL) there is much to choose. AL has a
non-linear outcome. To think of 4 years of AL is almost like
thinking of 4x4=16 years of RL. The 5 years of AL is like
5x5=25 years of RL and the 6 years of AL is like 6x6=36 years
of RL.

In other words, the difference between 18 and 25 years of
RL is 7 years of RL. Similarly the difference between 18 and
25 years of AL is 7 years of AL. But 7 years of RL is not
the same as 7 years of AL. In the case of 18 to 25 years, the
difference for AL is rather like 18x18 to 25x25 in RL years,
i.e 625 - 324 = 301 years of RL. This difference tell us that
the calculation (40 - 18) = 24 years of RL to see how many
years are left over, is rather foolish. The same for AL will give
(40 - 324) = -284 years. Literally interpreted in means that
a dead person has been employed for almost three centuries.
It makes no sense. So what makes sense?

In Authetic Learning AL the complexity of knowledge gained
increases much faster than the complexity of knowledge
gained for the same period by Rote Learning (RL). If I want
to hire a person for the complexity of knowledge which that
person already has gained, I will select the person with most
AL and least RL rather than staring at the number of learning
years. In other words, I would focus on the QUALITY of learning
(AL or RL) rather than the number of years as an indication of
the QUANTITY of learning.

This gives an indication why the 18 years case is often prefered
above the 25 years case. If in both cases it was more Rote
Learning RL than Authetic Learning AL, then it is easier for the
18 years person to change from RL to AL than for the 25 years
person. (The change from RL to AL, is possible, but not the
change from AL to RL since AL is irreversible.)

So what is the central issue between RL and AL? We have gone
over this issue many moons ago, but perhaps it is good to
summarise it all again. In Rote Learning RL the creativity of the
learner plays little, if any role. The learner is merely required
to soak up (as a sponge soaks up water) the creative outcomes
of other people. Thus it often happens at some advanced stage
that the rote learner is told "It is now time to learn creativity".

But in Authentic Learning AL the creativity of the learner plays
the central role right from the very beginning. The AL is then
the first order emergent of the underlying creativity. The creativity
fires the AL and the back action of the AL on the creativity
completes the feedback loop. This is exactly how all pre-school
children learn provided the feed-back loop has not already been

Let me report a little bit on Jesscia, my granddaughter, since
I have not done so for many moons. She is now in school for
eight months, almost finished with grade 1. Her creativity is
still working fine, but she (and her grandfather) has to battle at
it every day. She now has her third teacher. The first one often
made her stand on the chair, stretching her arms high up,
because she was "naughty". This "nauthtiness" always came
after she has completed her assignments long before the other
children. When she got her third reading book, it took her 16
minutes to read it through while it took other kids up to 4
weeks. (I sat beside her while she was doing it.) Her fourth
book took 25 minutes.

Three weeks ago she was selected with two other kids from
other grades to attend special classes because of their
(seemingly) superior intelligence. It made her mother very proud.
But her mother was also very furious. The teacher complained
that Jessica was "far too alive for the order of the class". They
like her "superior intelligence", but they dislike her periodic
"living at the edge chaos".

So is Jessica really a little she-devil? She is extremely fond
of dialogues. Almost every teacher at school knows her by
the name. Many kids in the two highest forms (6 and 7) knows
her (a child in form 1) by name. Why? She love to talk with
anyone despite that person's age -- her peers, her seniors and
even her teachers. She knows how to sustain her creativity
with dialogue. It is really funny to observe her and the people
around her at a distance. Small kids talking with their peers,
big kids talking with their peers, teachers talking with their
peers and Jessica meandering between all of them, talking
happily with whomever she happens to meet and they with

(Have you ever thought what a lovely, crazy situation would
develop when everyone does that -- no peers to observe?)

So, then Jessica must be a genius! No. She often confides
in me (especially the late afternoons on Tuesdays and
Thursdays when she go with me to my nursery.) Some days
she tells me about her problems and then I help her to create
solutions for them. Some days she lets her imagination go
wild and then I follow them up. However, I never dictate the
evolution. I know what to do and not to do. I take extreme
care not to penetrate her little world as others try to do. I
merely try to give her an open space so that for a few hours
she does not have to be on guard and protect herself. I
encourge every joule of free energy she seems to be
dissipating for whatever one-to-many-mapping coming to
her mind.

Often, when we drive in my truck back to our homes, she will
sing spontaneously songs of praise to the Lord. She laughs
when she is making up a new one which I cannot sing together
with her. Yesterday night I arrived late (7pm) at home. She
was laying on the sofa, fast asleep. I spoke softly to her so
as not to awaken her unduly. Her mother wanted to wake her
up because she usually does not want to go to bed even at
9pm, having too much to do. At 8pm I carried her, still fast
asleep, all the way to their flat a couple of hundred meters
away. It is not such an easy thing to do any more with
diabetes reducing my energy and power. But I love to do it
because it is little compared to the peace which the Lord gives
to all His beloved ones in their sleep.

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

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>