Re: Philosophy underlying LO? LO234

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Fri, 24 Feb 1995 22:46:56 +0001 (EST)

On Fri, 17 Feb 1995, Joe Kilbride wrote in LO142:

> Recently I have been reading some history of philosophy to better
> understand the philosophical underpinnings of the "old" mechanistic
> paradigm everyone seems to agree we are leaving behind. And so I have
> achieved a layman's familiarity with
> Bacon-DesCartes-Hobbes-Spinoza-Leibniz. In studying these philosophers, it
> does not take long to understand how the mechanistic, "world as clockwork"
> notion came into being and evolved through the 16&1700s into our
> predominant worldview.
> One way to represent the "spreading" of this worldview is:
> Philosophy--->Physics--->In time, all other disciplines
> ---------- ------- --------------------------------
> DesCartes Newton Dalton in chemistry
> etc. Darwin in biology, etc.
> While I realize the above is not "true", as a gross simplification it
> works for me. What is not at all apparent TO ME is when and how the "new"
> paradigm came into being. Arguably, there is lots of related activity in
> the "all other disciplines" column of such a table, so I assume there must
> have been some originators in the Philosophy and Physics columns who
> precede them.
> Philosophy--->Physics----> In time, all other disciplines
> ---------- ------- --------------------------------
> Ashby? Von Bertalanffy?
> Wiener? Shannon?
> Maturana/Varela in Biology?
> Prigogine in Chemistry?
> Bateson in Anthropology?
> Boulding in Economics?
> Powers in Psychology?
> Shewhart and Deming?
> Forrester and Senge?
> My questions are:
> 1. What philosophers are the originators of this "new"
> paradigm which underlies the Learning Org concepts?

Most philosophy in this century has been academic, unfortunately, and
somewhat unproductive. But there are some giants. If I had to pick a
single person who in his own work epitomized the paradigm, it would have
to be Ludwig Wittgenstein. The so-called "common-sense" or
"natural-language" thinkers of the midcentury did a great deal of the kind
of work that is exemplified in Senge's discussion of mental models. These
people shared a general abhorrence of metaphysics and "big" theories
about the world in general; of cliches, especially philosopher's cliches;
and of wishful thinking even if it's logical. J.L. Austin's essays are
completely enjoyable; the one on "pretending" is hilarious.

The most immediate progenitor of the perspective - or paradigm, if you
will - exhibited in Senge's book is not from academic philosophy. I think
it's in so-called "chaos theory" (which is mercifully changing its name to
"nonlinear systems theory").

It's the nonlinear systems work of the past decade that has _really_
turned the old world old. It's a deeper, far more fundamental shift than
was represented by either relativity or quantum theory.

> 2. Are Kant, Hegel, Santayana, James, Dewey, Russell and
> Whitehead philosophers of the "old", the "new" or some
> "intermediate" paradigm?

There are always two questions involved in something like this. One is
the question about direct and immediate influence: "announcing the
millenium" sort of activity. None of the above people did that or played
that kind of role. (Some contributors might want to disagree about, say,
Whitehead, on the grounds that he talked a lot about process. My
objection is that he did so in a made-up vocabulary far more opaque than
the matters he was trying to talk about.) If you _really_ stretched
hard, you might get a little rubber band around Santayana and James, but
that's about it.

The other question, once you've got the Master of Ceremonies identified,
is about the ancestors: if X was the father, who was the grandfather, the
greatgrandfather, and so on. And here we can include everybody except
Russell, who fathered nothing in philosophy except a very tedious variety
of undergraduate atheism.

> 3. Who in Physics -- Einstein? Heisenberg?
> 4. Any additions/deletions to "all other disciplines"?
> 5. If we are now moving beyond the "clockwork", what is the
> metaphor for this new worldview or paradigm?

Gee. Something organic, I hope. Most likely it's still slouching toward
Bethlehem. Actually my own symbol is the Mandelbrot set. I know, I
know, it's not organic; it's mathematical. But it _appears_ organic.
It's become my metaphor for the complexity of people, plants, language,
and the Internet. If you've ever seen a video sequence "zooming" into
the Mandelbrot set, and read - even informally - a description of how it
contains infinities after infinities, and realized that - in concept at
least - you could zoom into it FOR AN ENTIRE LIFETIME without ever seeing
anything exactly duplicated, then you can understand how it might come to
symbolize everything about our world that is _not_ caught by the law of
gravity or e = mcc.

Thanks for your post.

There are more different kinds of people in the world than there are people...

PS - Kurt Goedel. The first cracks in the Newtonian hegemony actually
showed up in formal logic and mathematics. But that's another post.