Development through Alternation

8.1. Interwoven alternatives: tensegrity organization and resonance hybrids

Anthony Judge

The authors of the preceding five sections (Stamps, Rescher, Bohm, Dossey, and Rudhyar) each argue for an alternative to Cartesian/Newtonian frameworks as a necessary condition for any adequate approach to perceived complexity. The need to elaborate a strong argument for such an alternative in each case obscures the author's explicit recognition of the continuing need for a Cartesian/Newtonian framework under certain conditions. The two alternatives may even be viewed as complementary in the full sense of the term (161), necessitating an alternation between them.

The first unsatisfactory feature of these presentations is that they do not go far enough in showing how the alternatives can be interwoven in order to be of practical relevance to the present crisis in human and social development. Thus Stamps, although acknowledging the bicameral nature of mind, uses a classical taxonomic framwork as a vehicle for his arguments for holonomy, and discusses "networking" in an unrelated book. Rescher stresses the local significance of Euclidean hierarchical structuring, but does not offer more than the recognition that the complexities of any global pattern can be viewed as a "chain-mail structure" (91, p. 202), otherwise known as the "fish-scale" structure of knowledge. Bohm provides graphic examples of the unfoldment and enfoldment of explicate forms in relation to the implicate order, but (although he idscusses its relevance to consciousness) it is not his purpose to show how such perception can be applied concretely in human and social organizations. Dossey avoids discussion of the interface between implicate and explicate therapy and of the nature of the framework in terms of which any decision to use one or the other would be made, namely the art of alternating between them. Rudhyar avoids the nature of the thinking required to alternate between tonality and syntonic perspectives, and what that implies for social organization.

Given the incompatible, but complementary, natures of the alternatives with which each of these authoris is dealing, it seems necessary to focus more clearly on the structure and dynamics of any "marriage" between such alternatives. How is any such marriage brought about and how does it "work" in practice? It does not seem to be sufficient to switch in an unmediated manner between sophisticated Euclidean taxonomies and sprawling associative networks (Stamps and Rescher) or between their process equivalents (Bohm and Dossey). The abyss separating them in practice invites the chaotic ineffectiveness and abuse which is characteristic of present conceptual and organizational dilemmas and of operation "schizophrenia". In any "marriage" such a situation is associated with abusive "sexual politics". The either/or nature of the switch is in itself an essentially Cartesian trap.

A step towards concretizing the implications of any such marriage can be explored firstly in structural terms. The problem can be defined as how to design (or comprehend) a marraige between "hierarchy" and "network" so that the union constitutes a whole of greater significance than the "incompatible" so that the union constitutes a whole of greater significance than the "incompatible" parts. This problem has been explored elsewhere (97, 93, 99) in the light of the tensegrity (tensional integrity) structures discussed by Buckminster Fuller (46) and subsequent authors (116, 117). The problem is essentially one of fitting hierarchy into network. This can be done such that the local advantages of hierarchy are melded into the global advantages of network. In this way the local weakness of network and the global weaknesses of hierarchy are counteracted. The large range of tensegrity structures (116) may then be viewed as indications of possible patterns of processes within a whole.

The special significance of tensegrity structures as "denk modelle" lies in the way they reflect and combine realistically the continuity of network and the discontinuity of hierarchy. The strong "constraining" bonds of hierarchy are interlinked by the weaker "restraining" bonds of network as in the reality of social organization. The two types of structural element, if appropriately interrelated, bring about the emergence of an entirely new structural system, with dynamic self-stabilizing and load distribution properties of a unique kind. Of great significance, when they take a spherical form, is the fact that the centre is unoccupied by any structural element. It becomes a vital point of reference for the global characteristics, but is defined solely by the manner in which the local structural elements are configured around it.

Although physical models of tensegrity structures can be built (and effectively underlie the construction of large-scale geodesic domes), a criticism that has been made of their potential significance as models of psycho-social organization is that they are too symmetrical and complete, and thus are not open to any further development. This criticism is valid if psycho-social organization is modelled by one such tensegrity structure only, as it is also if organization is modelled by a particular hierarchical or network pattern. But there are many such tensegrity structures, even in the spherical form. Each such structure may then be considered as a possible alternative. The process of development from one to another, or of the alternation between them, then models the potential richness of psycho-social organization more effectively. There are many transformation pathways between them (46).

The set of such alternative structures, between which alternation takes place, may be more clearly understood in the light of the theory of resonance. Johan Galtung first explored the possibility of using the organization of chemical molecules to clarify the description of social organization (118). He dealt with fixed structures and not with the transition between alternatives. The theory of resonance in chemistry is concerned with the representation of the actual normal state of molecules by a combination of several alternative "resonable" structures, rather than by a single valence-bond structure. The molecule is then conceived as resonating among the several valence-bond structures, or rather to have a structure that is a resonance hybrid of these structures.

The classic example of a resonance hybrid is the benzene molecule of 6 carbon atoms for which F A Kekule introduced the idea of oscillation between two alternative structures (Fig. 1: A and B). The pattern of oscillation was later extended by Linus Pauling to include three more alternates (Fig. 1: C, D and E). The actual configuration is a resonance hybrid of the five forms, which through quantum mechanics has been shown to have an energy less than any of the alternate structures. This is potentially of great significance for any social structure analogue, in view of the call for a low-energy society (see below).

Such structures recall the context of Bohm's arguments (above) concerning unfoldment of explicate forms. The wave function representing a stationary state of the resonance hybrid in quantum mechanics can be expressed as the sum of the wave functions that correspond to several hypothetical alternates.

The proper combination is that sum which leads to a minimal energy for the system (#7). Of significance in any social structure analogue is that the higher energy of each alternate is associated with some degree of "distortion" (different in kind in each case), which effectively renders the alternate rneta-stable (#8). Whilst the value of using such tensegrity or resonance models may be contested, they do have the advantage of shifting the debate, currently somewhat sterile, to a level at which the merits of particular answers are no longer the sole issue. They open the way to more fruitful discussions both about how alternation between the opposing answers characteristic of a complex society can be improved and about the kinds of social structures that could be based upon such patterns of alternation.