Policy Alternation for Development

Meta-answer patterning

Anthony Judge

In moving beyond pluralistic relativism, what is required is some appropriate pattern whereby answer domains can be interrelated. The number-pattern of sets outlined in the previous section is one approach to this.

Another approach is to develop a suitable classification scheme for answer domains which goes beyond the limitation of conventional matrix-type schemes (24, pp. 291-294) and the kinds of criticism to which classification is subject (25, 26). The feasibility of this has been explored in earlier papers (24, 27) and is the basis for an ongoing experiment in the classification of the 15,000 international organisations listed in the Yearbook of International Organizations (28). The intention is to highlight patterns of integrative relationships between international activities and problems in order to provide more coherent overviews of the world community of organisations in all its detailed variety.

In the terms of anthropologist Gregory Bateson (29, pp. 8-11), what is sought is an approach beyond pluralism to the "pattern that connects". Erich Jantsch points out however that: "The cultural pluralism...which is about to replace the era of uniform, committing guiding images, may be interpreted as a suspension of historical time....More surprising to many comes the conceptual pluralism of modern science. The theory of relativity and quantum mechanics "function" inside domains of observations, but all attempts to mould them into a unified paradigm have failed so far." (21, p. 303)

But he then continues:

"The pluralism of more recent concepts, especially in the physics of subnuclear particles, makes some physicists already speak of an "ecology of models" which cannot be fused to a unified model, not because we lack the necessary knowledge, but as a matter of principle." (21, p. 303)
The properties of the required meta-answer lie in the nature of such an "ecology" which does have a special form of organisation. Jantsch then makes the point: "Let us remember that the evolution of dissipative structures, too, can be described only by simultaneously employing two complementary models, a macroscopic-deterministic and a microscopic-stochastic one. And the co-evolution of macro- and microcosmos may only be grasped in the synopsis of complementary approaches. As a matter of principle, the autopoietic levels in a multilevel dynamic reality which have become separated by symmetry breaks cannot be united in a super-model, but only by way of describing the web of relations between them." (21, p. 303)

He then cites Ilya Prigogine who investigated such dissipative structures:

"The world is far too rich to be expressed in a single language....Music does not exhaust itself in a sequence of styles. Equally, the essential aspects of our experience can never be condensed into a single description. We have to use many descriptions which are irreducible to each other, but which are connected by precise rules of translation (technically called 'transformation'). Scientific work consists of selective exploration and not of the discovery of a given reality. It consists of the choice of questions which have to be posed." (21, p. 303)
The challenge is to discover the pattern of such "transformations" and to avoid the traps of current satisfaction with only providing "micro-answers" to "micro-questions". Such answers are of course essential, but they are not enough at this time. There does seem to be a special existential challenge to the relationship between the "pattern that connects" and acceptance of action in terms of a specific micro-answer. This challenge is associated with the "sacrifice" of generality of perspective in order to achieve concrete relevance and comprehensibility. Ironically the nature of this existential sacrifice has been explored in analyses of Rig Vedic philosophy as partly encoded in music and dance (30, 31). These analyses, which reflect Prigogine's above remarks on music, are explicitly linked to investigations of the significance of quantum theory for new understanding of changing classificatory frameworks (32, 33; see also 7) and the network of links between such frameworks conceived as "languages". The relationship of these concerns to "integration" has been explored in an earlier paper (34).

Another approach which provides valuable insights in delineating a meta-answer is that of Christopher Alexander on design and planning processes. Of special significance is his stress on the democratisation of any design process, especially in a complex institutional setting. He clarifies the process of elaborating an open-ended "pattern language" (35) consisting at the moment of some 250 sub-patterns. These can be combined in different ways by users to form their own unique languages. Clearly a similar approach could be used to elaborate a set of psycho-social patterns with which users could elaborate languages to design alternative institutions, communities and lifestyles.