Development through Alternation

8.2 Non-comprehension as a structuring phenomenon in a learning society

Anthony Judge

In a learning society, in which no one can aspire to be informed of every item of significance, it is quite unrealistic to expect ignorance and non-comprehension to have a purely minor role, hopefully to be further diminished by development programmes and information technology. Whether it be between the preoccupations of disciplines, cultures, generations, levels of education, or temperamental preferences, non-comprehension must necessarily continue to play a major role in the ordering of society, if not a progressively increasing one. The inability to respond to the minimal educational needs of developing countries is a striking example of the problem, matched by recent evidence of the increasing ineffectiveness of the sophisticated education programmes in developed countries. There are practical limits to learning, some of which have been explored elsewhere (81) in a critical review of the recent UNESCO-endorsed report to the Club of Rome "No Limits to Learning" (44).

This is the second reason for which the investigations of integration in the previous chapter by Stamps, Rescher, Bohm, Dossey, and Rudhyar are unsatisfactory. They do not recognize the wider social structuring effects of a person's inability to comprehend any more "seductive" answer. It is assumed that with some minimum of explanation comprehension will necessarily result and the person will switch from Cartesian to non-Cartesian, from linear to non-linear, as providing the only "reasonable" mode of comprehension. It is assumed that people can be provided with the educational context within which this transition can be facilitated. This is not the case, perhaps fortunately. Available resources do not permit such education on more than a limited scale, but more importantly, people have other agendas to which their concepts of human and social development are linked. It is through this process that the variety of the psycho-social system is protected from homogenizing tendencies, however benevolently initiated.

The structuring effect of non-comprehension in complex organizations is most clearly seen through q-analysis as discussed by Ron Atkin (above). One interesting feature of this is the effect of the forces to which an individual is subject by exposure to something which is not fully comprehended, especially when the non-comprehension is not consciously recognized, or is disguised by satisfaction with a superficial explanation. In a sense, recalling Dossey's arguments, the comprehension of an individual creates the spacetime geometry within which he functions (in Atkin's terms), whereas his non-comprehension determines the nature of the forces to which he is subject within that geometry (again in Atkin's terms).

The difficulty in engendering a more healthy approach to non-comprehension, as a phenomenon in which everyone participates, is that it is still treated as something to be disguised or denied, whether to oneself or to others. Or, perhaps worse, it is treated as something that can be eliminated by some kind of educational "fix" (a course, a tape, a book, etc.), or acknowledged with pride as something one does not need, or have time, to know.

It is for such reasons that Christopher Alexander, an architect/designer, is helpful in demonstrating that the central "quality without a name", which makes any context attractive to be in, can only be "tangentially" described in terms of a range of possible aspects:

"There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named." (36)

He shows how the nature of this central quality is not encompassed by any of the following attributes, each with its special advocates: alive, whole, comfortable, free, exact, egoless, eternal (36, pp. 25-40)

For Alexander, in order to define this quality, it is necessary to recognize that every context is given its character by certain patterns of events that keep on happening there. By arguing that these patterns are always interlocked with certain geometric patterns which structure any inhabited space, Alexander effectively provides a concretization of Atkin's insights relating to organization space (35). Both are intimately linked to the process of development:

"The specific patterns out of which a building or a town is made may be alive or dead. To the extent they are alive, they let our inner forces loose, and set us free; but when they are dead, they keep us locked in inner conflict. The more living patterns there are in a place...the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining force which is the quality without a name" (36, p. )

It is interesting that by defining the central quality as nameless, Alexander frees it from the problems, encountered earlier, of the essential inadequacy of any particular language. The quality is "defined" as not comprehensible through any one such language. As such it is totally in sympathy with the nature of Bohm's holomovement, by which such "names" are engendered.

Using the spherical tensegrity model, each such language is characterized by (explicate) surface features or patterns of the tensegrity which encompass a central empty space without occupying it. Using the resonance model, each attribute is an alternative in the pattern of alternation, but the nameless core quality is represented by the resonance hybrid. In Atkin's terms, the central quality functions as a higher dimensional q-hole which engenders a pattern of communication amongst the perspectives or languages configures around it.

The "New Global Order" called for by the crisis of the times may be thought of as brought into being by recognition of the fundamental distinction between local, specific, surface features (centres, values, languages, groupings, etc.) and the unoccupied common centre whose position is determined by the pattern of all such specialized features constellated around it. It is the very pattern of harmonies and dissonances between these local features which can then engender the space of which the unoccupied centre is the focal reference point. This can only occur if the mutual rejection of those most strongly opposed is contained, by allowing them appropriate- separation, and is thus itself used to maintain the form of the pattern.

These considerations clarify ways of thinking about any "meta-answer" and show the essential role of non-comprehension in structuring the space for the nameless quality of life which development programmes try in their different ways to enhance. The meta-answer is thus a resonance hybrid of answers based on particular conceptual languages or epistemologies. Development of that quality of life calls for the dynamics of resonance between answers or frameworks despite the conceptual discontinuity that this involves. The languages used above by different authors (in chapter 4, for example) clarify the strengths and weaknesses of particularly approaches in endeavouring to encompass this quality. In a sense the essential feature of this paper is the search for ways to alternate between the insights of each such language and thus engender some understanding of the nature of the resonance hybrid they form.

In order to give more practical significance to these considerations, further work is required to show, in the light of the insights of Dossey and Atkin, what kinds of spacetime geometries a person (or group) may create for himself through his mode of comprehension and through the "valencies" of the nodes in his pattern of communication. Much of relevance to such an investigation is implicit in Fuller's "geometry of thinking" (46), and explicit in Atkin's work (72, 74). Atkin especially clarifies the structuring effect of interactions between groups "living on different geometries". Fuller clarifies the transformations between configurations. But each such language must always be recognized as limited.

Another way to think about this question is in terms of "conceptual gearboxes". Use of a single-answer mode of comprehension is similar to the use of the first gear on an automobile, with ail its advantages and disadvantages. Modes of comprehension corresponding to alternation patterns between two, three, or more, such languages, are then similar to second and higher gears. The problem is then one of improving the design of such gearboxes and learning how to use them. For the difficulty at the moment is that individually and collectively we tend to get "stuck" in a particular Conceptual gear, and are unable to "shift" up or down according to the needs of the moment. This approach is explored in a separate paper (122).

The disadvantage of the gearbox model is highlighted by a "woven basket" or "birdcage" model in the same paper (22). The structural features of a spherical tensegrity may be considered as indicating the different functions active in a viable whole (99). What remains to be determined is what degree of functional differentiation is appropriate under what circumstances. A viable pattern of functions bears a strong resemblance to a viable basketweave pattern with its counter-balancing properties integral to the structure - hence the notion of "functional basketweaving". In this sense it has yet to be recognized that the psycho-social world is "functionally round" rather than "flat" as many seem to assume. Considered as a "birdcage", the problem is to interweave functions in such a way as to construct an environment for the essential living quality (of Alexander) which cannot otherwise be "kept alive" by the gross and devitalizing concepts so widely employed by programme designers.

An even more dynamic model emerges from the possibility that conceptual processes can be usefully conceived as engaged in a "pumping action". A "conceptual pump" (as in the respiratory cycle) involved transformation of attention processes through a single category, to a polar category set, to an N-category set, and back again - corresponding to the movement from principles to details. (Buckminster Fuller argues strongly in support of the fundamental significance of topological equivalent he describes, namely the vector equilibrium "jitterbug".) Problems in the pumping cycle can arise when the pump locks onto a set of a particular number, as is evident in many conceptual systems. Problems also arise when, for example, the single category set is projected onto some detailed feature of the environment, effectively reversing the action of the pump.