Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. (
Tue, 28 Feb 1995 14:15:15 -0800 (PST)

What is meaning? Where does it come from? What is the relation of
meaning and knowledge?

If we are expected to learn in a learning organization --- that
means to acquire knowledge. We have already discussed the persistent
nature of knowledge.

We have already noted that all the different meta-levels of
learning all increase our knowledge -- there is no
meta-knowledge. Research and Discovery reveal more or different
knowledge not something different from knowledge.

We apply that knowledge to invoke the different meta-levels of
change. All change is flux. There is no meta-flux. When we change
changes (i.e. exert control) we change the flux but we do not
transform it into something other than flux or flow we only
change the direction of the flow. The same is true of adaptivity
and flexibility. These meta-levels of change do not produce
something other than a flux or flow they merely make it more
adaptable and flexible. Flexible here means supporting multiple
adaptations simultaneously.

We experience flux or flow and within that we do learning and
derive the most persistent thing --- knowledge which we use as a
basis of modifying the flux and flow. There are feed back and
feed forward loops within this interaction. When the two are in
harmony we have wisdom. Wisdom is the SAMENESS or belonging
together of experience and knowledge.

Now this flux or flow of experience that engulfs us can be
defined as Primary Process. Primary process is manifestation.
Everything that manifests to us is part of the primary process.
Beyond primary processes exist only the unmanifest void.

Secondary process exists within the flow of manifestation as
locuses of organization and coherence. For the most part
secondary processes are vortices of active ordering within
manifestation. People that are doing things are secondary
processes. They are manifesting things within the overall
encompassing process of manifestation. A bird building a nest is a
secondary process. A volcano errupting is a secondary process. All
dissipative processes are secondary processes.

Tertiary processes are shepherded flows that do not organize
themselves. That is to say they are what is ordered by the
secondary processes. The stuff we use when we build things are
the tertiary processes. The chemical plant is made up of tertiary
processes that secondary processes set in motion and guide. The nest and
the lava flows that result from birds building or volcano's errupting are
tertiary processes. Bird nests fall apart when not constantly tended and
lava flows erode. They are still processes -- normally very slow
entropic processes of some kind.

On top of the tertiary processes is a level of reification of the
world into things. Things are frozen abstractions of flows of
events. We take these and construct illusory continuities through
the process of ideation. The process of ideation takes things and
makes ideational representations of them that attempt to approach
the concepts we have of those things.

So you can see that the flux of experience has real depth in that
we can look at that flux in terms of Tertiary, Secondary, or
Primary processes.

Now what exists on the side of knowledge that is like the
differentiation into different layers of process?

VOID - Unmanifest (limit) Meaning

Primary Process - Manifestation Significance

Secondary Process - Living Beings Relevance

Tertiary Process - Physical Processes Bateson's Differences
that make a difference

Reifications of Things - Nouns Differences

Illusory Continuity - Simple Ideas Identities
Ideational connections between things

Concepts - Complex Ideas (limit) KNOWLEDGE

What we notice here is that knowledge is not simple but is in
fact a very complex cultural object that is socially constructed.
The sociology of knowledge addresses how this complex cultural
artifact is produced. But there is no doubt that is is composed
of concepts approached through integrated representations. When
we start to apply knowledge to the world what we see first is
that there are identities or isomorphisms that need to be drawn
between the pieces of knowledge and things in the world. But as
soon as we try to isolate the isomorphisms we notice differences
that militate against the direct application of our knowledge in
any given instance. Some of these differences as Bateson says
make a difference or form a threshold which might cause a
different reaction if crossed than might exist otherwise. How we
react depends on our system of relevances applied in a specific
situation that might change our response despite thresholds being
breached. Out of that tailoring to a specific situation we go on
to recognize significances which appear from the relations of one
state of affairs to another within a situation. Significances are
ultimately diacritical --- occur because of the relations between
relevant things within a context based on the recognition of
differences that make a difference. So the application of
knowledge is very subtle in any given situation.

But the key point is that meaning is different from significance
and arises out of the void or the unmanifest. Meaning is not a
relation of significance between known things. Meaning is in fact
an infinite horizon of discovery of the inner depths of things
beyond their significances. We need knowledge as a prerequisite
to seeing meaning. We need to recognize the differences between
our knowledge and a given state of affairs. We need to recognize
the important thresholds of response. We need to know what is
relevant in any given situation. We need to understand what is
significant. But meaning opens out to an infinite horizon of

I call this theory of meaning the GEODE theory. This is because
all things are like Geodes. Geodes look like rocks. They are in
fact formed as water seeps through bubbles in rocks leaving
mineral deposits. Thus under the surface of the rock there is a
structural lattice of crystals that is very beautiful -- the
significances -- which frame an empty space. It is the empty
space within each thing that makes meaning possible. If things
were not intrinsically empty there would be no meaning in the
world. Meaning is our opening out on emptiness.

Our structure of meta-levels of learning/change in the wild
learning organization is the crystalline structure of the geode.
The practico-inert is the rock like exterior of the geode. The
unthinkable is the inner emptiness of the geode.

Through the realization of our ignorance it is possible for us to
continue to learn indefinitely. As we learn we build up knowledge
-- which is only valuable to the extent it opens new questions
and makes us realize how little we really know. We take that
knowledge and apply it to situations that are embedded in the
universal flux of existence. In doing so we open ourselves up to
recognizing significance at the deepest levels of the flux -- at
the level of manifestation. But beyond that because we are
intrinsically empty we open ourselves to the infinite horizon of
meaning which is the jeweled net of Indra in which everything
interpenetrates with everything else through the inherent
emptiness of all things.

Think about meanings. Some of what we call meanings are
significances of one thing's external relation to another thing.
But there is a level at which we reach real meaning in which the
internal relations between things become apparent and that can
only occur because things are inherently empty and that emptiness
is itself empty (i.e. a Void in the sense that the Tao Te Ching
uses the word).

For instance, given my situation I am trying to make a
significant intervention on this list by trying to get people to
think more deeply about the concept of learning organizations.
However, as I do so I reveal my own weaknesses and manifest
myself with all my foibles. Beyond the significances of the
concepts and how they relate to learning organizations you can
see the horizon of meaning as one applies these concepts to other
branches of learning or disciplines or inderdisciplinary studies.
Since we are talking at the level of epistemes and especially
when we talk at the level of ontology it will become clear that
if you try looking at the world through the lens of the things I
am saying you will view the world in a completely different
light. In fact you will uncover myriad meanings from the inner
coherences of things you discover from this point of view,
hopefully. Those myriad meanings are not limited by the
significances that appear from the interaction of these ideas to
the concepts of the learning organization.

VOID - Unmanifest Meaning

o The infinite meanings derived from applying these insights to
all aspects of our lives. As human beings we are open to many
many aspects of existence simultaneously and we can apply what
we learn in discourse to any aspect of that existence.

o Specifically it is unmanifest because we are not talking about
these other things but everything we say can be related by us
to everything else we know within ourselves as meanings.

o At this level our discourses on the elists intertwine with
the rest of our lives.

Primary Process - Manifestation Significance

o The facticity of the discourse itself as it develops
historically on this list and within our culture. We are in
fact encompassed by the discourse as a raw facticity of our
existential situation as human beings.

o At this level all the different discourses we are participating
in is one single interleaved discourse which we multi-task to
split into separate threads. But the separation is in fact
artificial in our own experience.

Secondary Process - Living Beings Relevance

o The significant strands of argument and the coherences of
these categories made by individuals who partake in
the universe of discourse. By living within the discourse and
experiencing their structures we are engaged in Heuristic
Research in which we try to understand completely what the
relevance of these categories are to us.

o At this level there are different threads associated with each
of the discourses we are participating in.

Tertiary Process - Physical Processes Differences
that make a difference

o The ways in which these categories are used in discourse. They
are continuously being invoked in multiple ways. We approach
their appearances via humanistic methods such as Hermeneutics,
Dialectics, Structuralism, Phenomenology and other humanistic

o At this level we have ongoing images of our interlocutors that
we build up based on their messages to us.

Reifications of Things - Nouns Differences

o Epistemic categories like logos/physus or wild/tame that appear
within our talk.

o Ideally we would engage in multiple strands of talk at the same
time in order to see the cross-currents.

o At this level we are dealing with our reified images of issues,
individuals, arguments, computer mediated communication etc.

Illusory Continuity - Simple Ideas Identities

o the written/oral talk about philosophy and
learning organizations that attempts to use that knowledge that
appears as cultural artifacts.

o At this level we are pojecting the argument from message to
message in the stream of responses.

Concepts - Complex Ideas KNOWLEDGE

o philosophy and learning organization as historical subjects and
disciplines with a body of knowledge associated with both.

o At this level we have our concept of communication via computer
aided communication devices such as elists.

So to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this

What is meaning? The interpenetration of all things.

Where does it come from? Out of the Emptiness of the Void at the
heart of each thing including ourselves.

What is the relation between knowldege and meaning? They are opposite
limits to human understanding of experience.

What we really need is an organization that is geared to the
receptivity of meanings.

Learning in an organization is not enough. We must apply what we
learn to garner wisdom and that wisdom naturally leads to the
uncovering of an infinite horizon of the emergence of meanings
within our lives and the lives of others we associate with.

The primary goal of modern organizations is the repression of the
upwellings of meanings in our lives.

Why is it Business seeks to keep us busy? So we will not have
time to stop thinking about significances and to reflect on
meanings that arise continually from the void.

Thinking deals with significances. When we stop thinking and
reflect we encounter myriad meanings pouring in on us from the
void. If we keep thinking about this and that we can effectively
repress these meanings --- to the point that for many it is as if
they do not exist.

Our schools teach knowledge but the history of Western Culture is one of
a suppression of meanings. If you look at Foucault's THE ORDER OF THINGS
you will see that the Medieval Episteme was geared to seeing meaning in
the world and we have progressively changed our epistemes in ways that
exclude meaning. Now we have gone to the extreme in the intensification
of nihilism (active and passive destruction of meaning) and it is time to
reverse this trend and learn to see meanings again.

Many traditional cultures use knowledge as a spring board for the
uncovering of meanings. Our culture uses knowledge as a means of
suppressing meanings. One way this is done is by not recognizing levels
of process below the reification of things.

Kent Palmer

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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