Postmodernism -- switching epistemes... LO129

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. (
Wed, 15 Feb 1995 18:06:01 -0800 (PST)

Subject: Postmodernism -- switching epistemes not just paradigms

Tell me am I talking past you folks, or do you find the idea of grounding
learning-orgs in philosophy of interest?

Thanks to all those who expressed some interest in either my papers or
tutorial -- I am badly in need of feedback so your help is appreciated.

In my last two, rather off the wall posts, I attempted to elucidate the
fact that basic Western categories like wild/tame and logos/physus DO
frame how we look at processes and the organizations that execute processes.

You may disagree with what I said in those posts - but their point was
that we should think about these categories and how they underlie our
thinking on learning orgs. I suggest as an exercise you formulate what
you think about the physus/logos and wild/tame dichotomies and post it
here. As long as you are thinking at this level -- and we are thinking
together -- specific approaches and conclusions are not as important as the
process of thinking itself. Can you suggest other fundamental categories
that go unquestioned in our framing of the notion of a learning
organization? Notice that the idea of a learning organization does not
challenge any categorical structures at the epistemic level. It kinda
says that we should consider organizations being social groups that
operate at an epistemic level.

These are fundamental distinctions that form part of our episteme (cf
Foucault THE ORDER OF THINGS). Epistemes are the ways we categorize
things. They are more basic than paradigms- which are sets of
assumptions. You need to cut up the world into categories before you can
make assumptions about it. Wild/Tame and logos/physus (read mind/body,
soft and hard sciences, etc.) are fundamental divisions of things to our
worldview which is fundamentally dualistic or control oriented. In other
words it divides everything into two classes and gives all power and
meaning to one of those classes. Gender was a basic example of this until
recently. We like to control things and our systems theory is mostly about
control. The fact that Ashby's law limits our control in fundamental ways
is just now starting to be recognized. For instance Kevin Kelly in OUT OF
CONTROL demonstrates that a possible new paradigm of non-control is forming.
He enunciates several principles of this new paradigm rooted in chaos and
complexity theory:

distribute being
control from the bottom up
cultivate increasing returns
grow by chunking
maximize fringes
honor your errors
pursue no optima, have multiple goals
seek persistent disequlibria
change changes itself

This is a fundamentally different way of looking at things. If you look
at Gerald Weinberg's QUALITY SOFTWARE MANAGEMENT book or Stafford Beer's
THE HEART OF ENTERPRISE or most other texts on what systems theory is
about you see that there is a clear emphasis on control as if there was
no other way of approaching things. But out of autopoietic theory has come
a constructivist approach called enactment by some which assumes a bottom
up approach which allows emergent ordering rather than imposing control.
When we look at our dualisms we see that constructivism then we see that
it trades tame for emphasising the WILD and we also see that this
approach collapses the logos/physus dichotomy into a nondual way of
looking at things. Autopoiesis was introduced by Varela and Maturana and
there is a good introductory book by John Mingers from Plenum Press
called SELF-PRODUCING SYSTEMS. Varela has a recent book from MIT press
called THE EMBODIED MIND. This other view messes with the fundamental
episteme by which we separate subject from object so it is more than just
a paradigm change. It creates a pseudo-science that cannot tell itself
from its object and describes special kinds of systems we call -- not
knowing what else to say -- LIVING -- concentrating on the individual
living organism instead of the species as do most biological theories.
These systems are living/cognitive where the living aspects are
inseparable form the cognitive aspects so that physus/logos becomes a
chiasm instead of two separate functions.

Changing from duality to chiasm of physus/logos and emphasising the wild
instead of the tame -- essentially believing Ashby's Law of requisite
variety that control is in the end an illusion -- throws us into a
completely different way of looking at things -- including organizations.
If we talk about the learning/changing organizations as a chiasm of
physus and logos and we emphasize the WILD instead of the tame then I
think we might sketch out what a learning/changing WILD organization
might be like. I think that would bear some relation to what Sartre calls
the Fused Group in CRITIQUE OF DIALECTICAL REASON and Cannetti calls the
hunting pack in CROWDS AND POWER. It would relate also to G.H. Mead's
definition of the Social and Emergence in THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE PRESENT.
G.H. Mead is the founder of the school of Behavioral Socialpsychology
called Symbolic Interactionism.

But even with these changes we are still operating within the general
constraints of our worldview and its epistemic categories. Changing
logos/physus into a chiasm instead of a duality. Emphasizing wildness
instead of the tame. These differences still use the same categories but
combine them in a different way.

Can we go beyond this and look into the nature of our worldview itself?
What epistemic variations are possible for us and what different
worldviews are within our reach by which we might transform ourselves and
our view of organizations. It is one thing to talk about emergence
happening and quite another to participate in such an emergence. Can we
transform ourselves and our understanding right here on this list?

We have a list called the list which is a spin off from
the autopoiesis list that organized to discuss the possibility of autopoietic
organization on the networks. I am reviving this list. Send the message
HELP to to find out how to join this list. At that
site is the autopoiesis list as well as a special new list on work
process engineering called

Philosophy is the most practical of disciplines. It transforms you
utterly when you engage in it starting from any specific discipline as
the beginning point of ones inquiry. When we inquire and begin learning it
is philosophy that guides our self-questioning and turns our knowledge
into self knowledge. Though that process the world and ourselves are
transformed in every aspect of our beings. All other disciplines take a
stance at from that vortex of self transformation and thus are to some
extent less practical than philosophy. A good view of this can be found in
Deleuze and Guattari's last book together than recently appeared called

Kent Palmer
human process engineering specialist

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. :Administrator of ThinkNet {aka DialogNet}
Software Engineering Technologist :philosophy and systems theory email lists
autopoietic social systems theorist:hosted at the Thinknet BBS (714-638-0876)
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