Development through Alternation

8.8 Uncertainty: the source of meaning

Anthony Judge

In a study still in progress, John and David Keppel explore the situation of man at the interface between the entropic degradation of order and the development of new forms of order(134). For them new conceptual tools are required to respond to those aspects of the current social condition for which determinism has proved inadequate, if not dangerous in its efforts to maximize certainty and to marginalize uncertainty. They see the key as lying in the logic of living systems with their inherent ability to deal with uncertainty to their own developmental advantage. There are principles involved in this logic which are valuable to any new ordering of society.

In such a framework the spread of control among diverse entities serves as a focus for the development of any such system. Error, imperfection and accident, with their implicit static bias, are in fact vital to learning within any living process, in contrast to their current status in societal management. Destruction of information in any form may well lead to the recovery of uncommitted potentiality for adaptive response to change. For the Keppels what persists are the broad principles according to which things in flux relate to each other.

The preliminary study stresses the importance of the partnership of living beings as essential to regulatory feedback processes based on differences. Such symbiosis depends on the essential diversity or non-homogeneity of society. Reciprocal relations underlie all evolutionary processes and are essential to mental development, psychic balance and cultural advance.

Whilst the arguments are developed in some detail with specific suggestions for political initiatives in the United States, at both national and at local levels, the study does not - in its preliminary form - demonstrate the nature of the new conceptual and social patterns required. It is one thing to draw attention to the principles involved and to show how they work in nature. It is another to elaborate their implications at the level at which they enable new initiatives to be undertaken. They stress that evolution works by the adaptation of existing structures rather than by exact design of a new structure suited to the new order. But the question is what form to give to the "conceptual ley lines" to enable such adaptation to take place in a decentralized manner. Is it sufficient to assume that the logic of living uncertainty is an adequate guideline? If not, how is this understanding to be "geared down" to facilitate the emergence of more appropriate patterns? How is it to avoid being coopted as a newly fashionable cosmetic for unchanging strategies, as have so many previous guidelines over the past decades - cooperation, development, interdisciplinarity, networking, etc.?

This difficulty calls for a means of building into the conceptual framework countervailing elements of a kind which correspond to the diversity-enhancing nature of the principles involved. Specifically the study does not take into account the dynamics resulting from opposition to those principles and the process of attempting to implement them. How are they to respond to their own negation? How are they to "dance" with those of the opposition? It is giving form to the nature of the dance which is the core of the problem of "coherence" which the authors identify as the only authoritative answer to the present chaos of problems and rival solutions. But in the authors' own terms, coherence must surely dance with incoherence in a developing society grounded on uncertainty.

Uncertainty is clearly closely related to "future possibility". Both are associated with "ignorance", a feature of the learning process discussed earlier. Society may have various attitudes towards all three. At the moment defensiveness prevails. Ignorance in particular is a social "evil". It must be "eliminated", despite the fact that it is "regenerated" with every baby born "ignorant", and with every scientific and cultural innovation about which people are as yet ignorant. It is also generated in government, military and commercial practices, even at the grass-roots level, through the need to avoid revealing the truth under certain conditions (143, 144).

Specialists are necessarily educated to be ignorant of domains other than that with which they are specifically concerned. Ignorance is in fact the matrix from which innovation and renewal emerge. As with the generation of event-horizons by black holes, it is the orifice through which we enter time, or leave it. The problem is not to eliminate it, but rather to accept it (as every parent does, usually with pleasure) to recognize its positive functions, and to give it a central "place" in society rather than marginalizing it. Unless it is appropriately "contained", society is unable to relate effectively to the direction from which its own future development will emerge. Rejection of ignorance is a rejection of transformative development. All that then remains is non-transformative development in the light of pre-existing, "ignorance-free" programmes.