Rediscovering the Role of 'Place' in Understanding

Montréal, November 28, 1999

In this series of essays, ... in examining the 'geometry' of the works of scientists, philosophers and psychologists from Heraclitus to Einstein, questions have inevitably arisen on the 'relational and implicit' relative to the 'innate and explicit'. The questions, in turn, raise further questions about perception, ... about the difference of looking out at the world as if we are immersed in it, ... including ourselves in the co-dynamic of our life as we engage with the social and natural containing environment which immerses us, ... or, ... studying the world 'out there', as a detached voyeur, a 'parasite of the visible', as has been the tradition of science and of our western scientific 'way'.

How are these two views related?

Relativity would appear to provide the answer here, in its suggestion that there is a simultaneous self-referentiality between 'container' and 'content' given by the 'reciprocal disposition' between the containing space-time and the contained 'thing'.

When we are newborn, we know only this reciprocality because we do not yet differentiate ourselves from the whole in which we are contained (Vygotsky, Piaget), and by recognizing familiar patterns which seem to have a differentiated and independent identity based on their appearance and behavior, ... starting with our mother, ... we begin to break the whole down into 'parts', and in so doing we become a 'part' as well, ... a part which is now determined NON-RELATIVISTICALLY, by its properties and behaviours. Of course, in our attempt to 'understand the way the world works', we are forced to put these parts back together again. Acculturation seems to be a scaled up version of a 'down-and-back-up-again' approach to understanding the world.

Initially, we come to know the properties and behaviors of things implicitly, by means of 'preconceptual' thought and 'pseudoconcepts'. Vygotsky explains this well in 'Thought and Language', relating concept formation to 'two basic forms of experience', 'spontaneous' and 'scientific' (structured). Through socialization, we develop our conceptual thinking ability by interweaving the meaning of words with our spontaneous experience. This packs a lot of spontaneous experience into how we perceive a word and leads to Vygotsky's comment that "a word relates to consciousness as a living cell relates to a whole organism".

This 'reciprocal development' of the implicit and pseudoconceptual with the explicit and articulate has a simultaneous 'dipolar flow' geometry, i.e. ; "the development of the child's spontaneous concepts proceeds upwards, and the development of his scientific concepts proceeds downward, ..". This reciprocal relationship between a containing web of relationships and explicit content is reminscent of both quantum duality and holography; i.e the reciprocal relationship between wave interference and particulate properties and behaviors, and the fact that as the network of interfering relationships grows, so grows the depth of 'resolution' of its reciprocal 'articulate'. That these two ways of perceiving are not independent is supported by Feynman's formulation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, that 'equipment cannot be built in any way' to home in on particulate properties and behaviours without, at the same time, destroying the interference patterns; i.e. we cannot perceive both at once, because they are not independent entities, and it seems clear that one is the 'reciprocal' of the other.

Vygotsky further notes, that there is a difference in psychological state, as we view the world in these two basic, reciprocal ways. When we are in 'spontaneous' perception mode, i.e. in an 'immersed, implicit, relational' experiencing of the world, we open ourselves up for the ''aha' erlebnis', ... , and whilst in the 'scientific' perception mode, i.e. in a 'voyeur' experiencing of the world, we gird our senses for "a 'mediated' attitude towards [the] object".

Thus it is clear, not only through the experimental research based psychological findings of Vygotsky and others, but also through our common sense understanding of our experience, ... that we can experience the world as being 'immersed constituents 'of' and 'in' it', ... or, ... as being detached 'voyeurs' who look 'upon' the world as we might look at a television screen, into the ocular of a microscope or through a keyhole.

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle then, ... can be re-examined in view of this perceptual duality; for example, in the context of whether or not these perceptual modes give us 'equivalent' views.

Since 'the world is only given once', ... the two perceptual modes must be 'homing in' on the same reality, but in what manner?

The particulate view aims to get a view of the whole, in terms of 'things' and their properties and behaviors, but it overtly 'runs out of steam' as we move towards the limit and try to pin down, absolutely, the position and movement of the particle, ... leaving us with an unresolvable 'uncertainty'.

But there is an implicit assumption in this particulate approach that should not be overlooked, ... and that is that by expecting to get all the information we need out of material structures and their properties and behaviors, .. we are assuming that 'space doesn't count', ... that space (field) is not a participant in physical phenomena.

Yet as Einstein goes to great pains to point out, ... that 'space is NOT empty', ... and that 'space is a participant in physical phenomena'. And furthermore, relativity says that there is a geometric 'reciprocal disposition' relationship in relativistic curved space-time, between the full ensemble of things in space and a particular constituent, ... just as there is between the ensemble of balls in a billiards game and a particular ball.

But we have an apparent conflict here because the only way we could ever tie everything down through the voyeur study of things and their properties and behaviors would be if the things were truly independent and space was a non-participant, ... a 'void', as it is in the NON-RELATIVISTIC euclidian space convention.

Absolute independence of material things is emphatically NOT the case, according to the theory of relativity, nor according to electromagnetic field theory, nor according to our common sense.

...but let's hold that thought for just a moment and triangulate in to resolve its meaning from a couple of other angles of attack.

Let's examine now, the 'identity' of a 'thing'. In classical science, the 'identity' of a thing is determined by its innate properties and behaviors. But by that path of having committed to 'independent things' whose identities are determined by their properties and behaviors, we came to a crossroads, a moment ago, where we got into the issue of whether 'fields of force' clouded this 'independence'. Newton made very clear, that he wanted no part in portraying 'gravity' as an innate property of matter. While that was INFERRED by his mathematical principles, ... he pointed out in the 'author's preface' to 'The Principia' that his theory was still missing an explanation for why things came together and stayed together (as in the solar system); i.e. why things "... are either mutually impelled towards each other, and cohere in regular figures, or are repelled and recede from each other." This 'behaviour of the ensemble' as he clearly stated, was not deducible from his mathematical principles describing the behaviors of parts.

Kepler had emphasized this same point, explicitly stating that the simultaneous harmony of the ensemble (sun and planets) could not possibly come from the behaviors of the individual globes and that, instead, "... the universe was stamped with the adornment of harmonic proportions..." and that the orbitals and their eccentricities "... which fell to the lot of each planet had to be brought into concord."

That both of these great scientists felt that 'field' effects (effects from the immersing container) went beyond what was coming from the 'things' in their own right is fully evident from their work and comments. It is underscored, once again, by Newton's letter to Bentley;

"It is inconceivable, that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else, which is not material, operate upon, and affect other matter without mutual contact; as it must do, if gravitation, in the sense of Epicurus, be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason, why I desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me. That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another, at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it."

What both Kepler and Newton were saying, was that in order to fully understand 'the way the world worked', one had to go beyond the notion of 'things' and their properties and behaviors and consider the participation of 'something else' coming from the 'space' in which these 'things' were immersed constituents. In other words, you can't understand 'things' solely on the basis of their innate properties and behaviors, .. you must consider as well, influences from their containing space.

~^~ you can't understand 'things' solely on the basis of their innate properties and behaviors, .. you must consider as well, influences from their containing space ~^~

~^~ you can't understand 'things' solely on the basis of their innate properties and behaviors, .. you must consider as well, influences from their containing space ~^~

.... and this brings me back to the beginnings of my explorations, to the domain of human systems behavior, and to some further 'threads' in unravelling this enigma.

The anthropologist Mircea Eliade picked up on this major shortfall in the study of human behaviors, as he observed how we observe ourselves, in the case of 'les primitifs' (aboriginals, native north americans), commenting that the scientific method looked upon them; "with the detachment and the indifference which naturalists bring to the study of insects rather than with the intelligent empathy of the interpreter".

Here again is the same story, ... that understanding based on the properties and behaviors of 'things' is incomplete. And this is, again, common sense. Do we expect to be able to understand another person or even a billiard ball without being able to 'look through his eyes', outward, towards the topography of opportunity or non-opportunity which immerses him and 'gates' or constrains his purpose? Or do we assume, ... that if we come from an established, affluent, 'well-connected' family, that it is nevertheless our innate properties and behaviors which fully determine our historical development, ... our 'success' in the world?, ... or do we assume that the 'topography of opportunity' which immerses us has some influence over our historical development, ... such 'topography of opportunity' being of a rather different character than that which immerses a similarly genetically constituted black man born into a ghetto family. In other words, do innate properties, such as purposiveness and intelligence, express themselves differently, depending on 'place', ... whether one is born into slavery rather than into the mansion on the hill? Does the inductive-repulsive 'shape' of the immersing and containing space-time containing 'field' bear at all on the behavior of the system?

Because if it does, ... than we will never understand systems on the sole basis of understanding their assumed-independent constituents, no matter what level of detail we succeed in going down to, ... since the system behavior derives, ALSO, and AT THE SAME TIME, from the geometry of the curved space-time ensemble.

This was, in fact, the essential premise underlying the inception and development of 'general systems theory', which Russell Ackoff describes in terms of the realization that the 'down-and-back-up-again' pathway to understanding systems was innately incomplete, ... that by dropping down and focusing in on an examination of the parts of a system, we, at the same time, turned our backs on the relationships between the system and its enveloping space-time container. Thus, the systems sciences decided that an 'up-and-back-down again' approach was needed, wherein the system and its constituents took on meaning or 'identity' from how they were situated with respect to the 'topography of opportunity' in which they were immersed.

This is a reciprocal view, ... a 'reciprocal dispositional' view or 'inverted perspective' or a 'field view' where our understanding of 'things' DOES NOT COME FROM THE PROPERTIES AND BEHAVIORS OF THE 'THING' AS SEEN FROM A DETACHED EXTERNAL OBSERVER-PERSPECTIVE, BUT FROM IT'S 'CENTERED PLACE' IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS, ... FROM ITS EXPERIENCE OF 'PLACE'. Thus the native american perspective of Kiowa writer Scott Momaday;

"... and you just looked around at all the new and beautiful things. And after a while, the trader put some things out on the counter, sacks of flour and sugar, a slab of salt pork, some canned goods, and a little bag full of the hard red candy. And your grandfather took off one of his rings and gave it to the trader. It was a small green stone, set carelessly in thin silver. It was new and it wasn't worth very much, not all the trader gave for it, anyway. And the trader opened one of the cans, a big can of whole tomatoes, and your grandfather sprinkled sugar on the tomatoes and the two of you ate them right there and drank bottles of sweet red soda pop. And it was getting late and you rode home in the sunset and the whole land was cold and white. And that night your grandfather hammered the strips of silver and told you stories in the firelight. And you were little and right there in the center of everything, the sacred mountains, the snow-covered mountains and the hills, the gullies and the flats, the sundown and the night, everything --- where you were little, where you were and had to be."

We are coming to know this person's 'identity' in a very empathetic way, as Eliade suggests we should, but what his 'scientific identity', based on his 'properties and behaviors'? How big is he? What colour are his eyes and hair? Does he move graceful or awkwardly? Is his behavior rude or thoughtful? .... wait a minute, .. Is he a 'he' or a 'she'?

Apparently, there are two reciprocal ways to understand a thing, to know its 'identity', ... 'who or what it is', ... two reciprocal ways in the manner of 'disposition' and 'reciprocal disposition' in the theory of relativity, and two reciprocal ways in the manner of Vygotsky's sense of the antagonistic yet complementary relationship between spontaneous and scientific perception, ... the former being defined by 'being in the center of everything, ... where you were and had to be', ... and the latter being defined by "a 'mediated' attitude towards the object", ... the one way associated with a detached external (excluded) observer looking down and in, .... and the other way associated with an immersed internal (included) observer looking up and out.

What the systems sciences appear NOT to have done in the formal description of method (actual execution of systems projects may not suffer this shortfall), is to incorporate the theory of relativity into their approach to 'understanding the way the world works'. If one assumes that the space-time 'container' is RECIPROCALLY related to it's 'constituents', then it is no longer a question of 'either or' when it comes to 'up-and-back-down again' OR 'down-and-back-up-again' pathways to understanding systems , but, in the manner of Vygotsky, to see these two approaches as reciprocal aspects of a dipolar unity

As Einstein has pointed out, new theory such as relativity and new ways of perceiving such as the 'field' (immersed) view do not 'do away' with the old ways, ... but simply 'swallow them up' so that the old become subsidiary features nested within the new. As Einstein and Leopold say in 'The Evolution of Physics'; "To use a comparison, we could say that creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles of our adventurous way up."

The relativistic view is one in which the constituent, while apparently independent, has a SIMULTANEOUS reciprocal effect on its containing environment, ... when a billiard ball moves, ... the 'reciprocal disposition' or 'topography of opportunity' SIMULTANEOUSLY changes for all constituents. So, yes, the individual constituent has his independent will or purpose, ... but the 'shape' of his immersing 'topography of opportunity' is not 'given' SOLELY by his innate properties and behavioral skills, but by how these reciprocally mesh or 'co-relate' with his immersing 'topography of opportunity' and every move he makes, and every move any of the constituents make, ... reciprocally transforms his any everyone else's 'topography of opportunity' within which they are each uniquely 'centered'.

Such a system evolves or renews (i.e. it 'self-swallows' in a continuing way) via 'container-constituent-coevolution', ... and as Mcluhan pointed out, and as the seasoned pool player knows full well, ... the 'MEDIUM', .. the reciprocal, interfering, simultaneously imposing pattern which haloes 'content' and transforms the containing space-time configuration, is the overriding 'MESSAGE' in our experiencing of the system. As Kepler suggested; " the space-time container [universe] is imbued with a topography of opportunity [is stamped with the adornment of harmonic proportions] and the behavioral specifics [and ... the orbitals and their eccentricities] which fall to the lot of each constituent [which fell to the lot of each planet] must be brought into concord.

And this exploration brings us back to where we started, to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and to know it anew, ... in a manner wherein the uncertainty in the behavior of what we observe emanates from its reciprocal relationship to its space-time container. In order for the uncertainty to be reduced to zero, therefore, ... all activity in the space-time container would have to come to a standstill, ... including the activity of the observor and his equipment. To know everything completely is to therefore to die (or perhaps to dream), to lose the detachment which comes from consciousness and rejoin the whole.

Clearly, we are not 'fully given' by our genetic structures and inherited behaviors but by the co-dynamics of these structures and behaviors with the unique 'topography of opportunity' or 'place' in which we are 'centered' or 'immersed', and which is continually being transformed not only as a result of our dynamics but equally as a result of the dynamics of all other constituents, ... and simultaneously so. In other words, our description in terms of our independent dynamics is innately incomplete, ... we can only be fully described in terms of our co-dynamic with our container.

Meanwhile, the leadership and regulatory management structures of our modern world have become increasingly oblivious to their own reciprocal effect, ... acting out of an innate and non-relativistic 'correctness', ... 'political correctness' which is seen as liberating them from any and all responsibilty for their own reciprocal effect, and in the process propagating unmanaged haloes of reciprocal effect which degeneratively transform the topography of opportunity for others and themselves. The principles of a renewed leadership, based on a 'prise de conscience' of the reciprocal relativity of whole-and-part, is discussed in Media, Leadership and the New Sciences .

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