Meta-levels of learning/changing... LO180

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. (
Mon, 20 Feb 1995 18:17:15 -0800 (PST)

Subject: Meta-levels of learning/changing in a wild/tame social organization

Now that we have considered the nature of knowledge and its
wonderful persistence we can return to looking at the
wild/tame learning/changing organization a little more closely.

As noted before the basis of this view is Bateson's article in
STEPS TO AN ECOLOGY OF MIND on meta-levels of learning. He notes
that in physics we can only think a few meta-levels up in
relation to the concept of movement in physics and posits that
the same is true of learning. He goes on to describe the
meta-levels of learning which he says are inherently limited to
four. I will not review his argument here. But will instead
outline the meta-levels of change and learning in relation to a
social organization.

Level Zero -- The practico-inert.

This level is that of rote learning or rote action or
unconsidered insignificant changes. Everything that we call inert
has practice from the past embedded in it. Anthropologists call
it Culture. Foucault in the introduction to Deleuze and
Guattari's ANTI-OEDIPUS would call it FASCISM. It might be called
Bureaucracy -- reified social structures into a frozen ossified
organization. We are literally surrounded everywhere by the
artificial practico-inert artificial world created by others and
imposed on us without our consent. Emanuel Levinas talks about
this imposition by the other of the world already created in his

The practico-inert represents unconsciousness and stasis within
our world. The practico-inert is defined in Sartre's CRITIQUE OF

Level One -- Process

Meta-level one Change (physus) and Meta-level one Learning
(logos) combine into the chiasm of Process and when these two are
applied differentially to the practico-inert it is work.

Meta-level one Chance is production, transformation, "just doing

Meta-level one Learning is the application of consciousness in
the process of work usually via a method or technique.

When both are applied together there is learning change,
transformational theory, conscious production.

Level Two -- Improvement

Meta-level two Change is management, control, and guidance.

Meta-level two Learning is education, self-consciousness, theory,
and methodology.

The chiasm of Change Two and Learning Two is management education
or cybernetics.

When Change Two and Learning Two are applied differentially then
there is Process Engineering of Work Processes.

Level Three -- Innovation

Meta-level three Change is Adaptation.

Meta-level three Learning is Research.

The chiasm of Change Three and Learning Three is adaptive
research which entails innovation.

When Change Three and Learning Three are applied differentially
we have Process Science that lays the groundwork for Process
Improvement of Work Processes.

Level Four --- Emergence

Meta-level four Change is Flexibility.

Meta-level four Leaning is Discovery.

The chiasm of Change Four and Learning Four is flexible discovery
or discovered flexibility.

When Change Four and Learning Four are applied differentially we
have Process Creativity that creates and destroys work based on
changing goals and visions of what needs to be done in the New
situation. Emergence is the arising of the utterly new and novel
that we did not expect and could never even guess would arise.

Level Five --- Unthinkable

Meta-level five Change is unthinkable.

Meta-level five Learning is unthinkable.

This claim of unthinkability makes this theory empirical in the sense
that everyone can try to think the fifth meta-level. The disproving of
this postulate will expand our conception of the world moving the
challenge to the next higher meta-level.

What is unthinkable is fundamentally Empty as in the Buddhist use
of the word Emptiness "Sunyata". The whole point of this series
is not that it merely ends but that it makes visible the
Emptiness of all things which we experience as unthinkable. This
is where thought stops. This is the Void out of which things
arise when they emerge from nothing.


At each meta-level of the learning/change organization there is a
chiasm(a) between physus and logos. When the different aspects of
that chiasm is applied differentially to the next lower level
there arises fundamental changes in that lower level. Each level
has its own language which is a meta-language to the immediately
lower level. The levels describe the path by which new things
enter and fundamentally change our world. All routine work in an
organization is practico-inert if they are completely unconscious
and entail no significant changes. Most manual and low skilled
work requires some degree of learning and change. A lot of even
highly skilled work does not go beyond the first meta-level. What
goes beyond that meta-level are the non-routine work that people
do as they solve problems that causes changes in the way we work
due to the process of learning applied to what we are doing.

Another point of interest is that each meta-level of learning
contains a chiasm between logos and physus. That chiasm has a
point of reversibility which in each case is wisdom. We are
merely moving to deeper and deeper strata of wisdom. Wisdom is
knowledge (the result of learning) and experience (the result of
bareing up under changes). So the inner point of reversibility in
process between learning and change is wisdom. That wisdom guides
work which differentially applies change and learning to the
practico-inert. The same is true of each meta-level. At each
level there is that point of reversibility between change level
two and learning level two for instance which is a more refined
level of wisdom which gets applied as we improve the way we work.
Each meta-levels entails a refinement of wisdom.

This means that wisdom is the interface between learning and
change within the chiasm between logos and physus. Wisdom is at
the heart of work from the most simple kinds of work to the most
sophisticated work of flexible discovery. These chiasms between
learning and change are like the mobius strip in that they are
locally different and globally the same. You can make the
distinction between learning and change from multiple angles
differently but ultimately no distinction between them will stand
but instead they are constantly shifting. Philosophy is the love
of wisdom. The love is the global sameness of learning and
change. By love we mean desire. Desire is what drives production.
Desire is the wellspring from which our learning and our changes
arise. Production fulfills our desires and necessitates the
differential application of learning and change in order to
produce the things that fulfill our desire. But beyond that we
desire wisdom which is the inner balance of the logos and the
physus which is non-dual. Love of wisdom itself comes when we
realize that experience and knowledge, change and learning are
really the same thing and that our actions, thoughts and
perceptions are really non-dual, that is to say that there is a
level of behavior before the split between logos and physos and
knowledge and experience to which we all have access in every
thing we do. There must be philosophy in the midst of action and
action in the midst of philosophy. Our culture has spilt these
two things off and driven them to extremes producing rampant and
deep nihilism. By loving the wisdom embedded in the heart of all
work we free ourselves from that inherent nihilism in our

The learning/changing organization is also wild rather than tame.
It is wild because it is directly connected to emergence of the
novel. The extreme of tameness is embodied in the practico-inert
which is pure habit. The meta-levels of learning/changing bridges
the gap between the wildest and the tameist that human beings can
attain. In this way we see that these two deep dualisms frame the
definition of the wild/tame learning/changing organization. What
we are trying to indicate is the non-dual source prior to the
arising of the dualities. The fused group of Sartre and the
hunting pack of Cannetti lie at the wild extreme at which all
social organizations arise and the reified organization that
operates like an unconscious machine with no learning and no
changes operates at the other extreme. But actually both of these
extremes are nihilistic caricatures just like extreme
distinctions between logos (consciousness) and physus (matter).
What we are trying to indicate is a state of affairs that lies
prior to the arising of these interlocking distinctions which
conditions and precomprehends everything we do within our
organizations whether they be learning or unlearning.

[Copyright 1995 Kent Palmer. For submission into the and email lists archives
and for distribution on those lists. Copies may be made for personal study.
All other rights reserved.]

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. :Administrator of ThinkNet {aka DialogNet}
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