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Integrative Knowledge Project (Explanations)

Method: Subtler forms of disagreement

Integrative Knowledge Project

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1. Premature and immature agreement

Clearly there is a communication problem in arguing for new levels of unity, if this is comprehended as equivalent to arguing for separation of mother and child, for example. Any such argument can then only be perceived as "bad" or "evil" under present circumstances. But, at the same time as the Rg Veda case illustrates, there is a certain level of disagreement inherent in any pattern of organization.

Any such disagreement gives rise to an "impossible yearning for agreement" that drives the search for subtler levels of agreement. For example, an interesting study has been made of dissymmetry as an anti-entropic force. This may lead to a valuable contrast between symmetry (as agreement) and dissymmetry (as disagreement): "Dans toute symétrie établie peut surgir une rupture partielle et non accidentelle qui tend à compliquer l'équilibre formé. Une telle rupture est proprement une dissymétrie. Elle a pour effet d'enrichir la structure ou l'organisme où elle se produit, c'est--dire de les doter d'une propriété nouvelle ou de les faire passer à un niveau supérieur d'organisation." (Roger Caillois, La Dissymtrie, 1973, p.78)

But this search may be driven in either of two conflicting directions, whether towards the primordial unity (soundless, womb-like, by recovery of the past), or towards a unity based on greater differentiation (in the future). In both cases it is necessary to live with disagreement, rather than rejecting it as "evil". As indicated in the Rg Veda case: "It is man's yearning for this impossible agreement which introduced a hierarchy of values into the number field... and that world was rife with disagreement among an endless number of possible structures." The disagreement is only absorbed and contained, as a complementary study demonstrates, by the use of larger numbers sets: "The great expansion of the number sets in later diagrams is motivated, I believe, by the effort to approximate as exactly as possible the irrational square root of 2 which is needed to locate a tone symmetrically opposite the mean on D, that is, precisely in the middle of our octave." (Ernest G MClain, The Myth of Invariance, 1978, p.37)

The problem of "world peace" etc needs to be seen in a similar light. As presently conceived, the level of articulated separation, disagreement or diversity is not yet great enough to sustain more than an undifferentiated, mass-consciousness version of the desired level of agreement.

2. Differentiated patterns of disagreement

The previous point would appear to indicate that the deficiency of dialectics in understanding disagreement arises whenever some stability is required for disagreement sets higher than the threefold by which it is characterized (eg thesis, antithesis, synthesis). This is clearly stated by Arthur Young: "But when the stimulus causes wrong action and the result is not achieved, the (fourfold) learning cycle becomes necessary. Thus the learning cycle only becomes necessary when there is an obstacle in the larger, threefold cycle." (1975, p.24)

This suggests the need to explore more highly differentiated patterns of disagreement with higher numbers of component elements. The most interesting development in this direction is that arising from the impact of quantum theory on the conceptual bases for the classification of knowledge (C A Hooker, The Impact of Quantum Theory on the Conceptual Bases for the Classification of Knowledge, 1978), especially that of P A Heelan (The Logic of Changing Classification Frameworks, 1978) who is concerned with incompatible frameworks, and with complementary frameworks and dialectical development. He advocates the use of non-Boolean partially ordered lattices to interrelate such frameworks and the languages associated with them. Heelan's approach is cited by the authors of the above-mentioned studies on the Rg Veda as appropriate to the complexity with which they are dealing.

Heelan relates his own work to that of Feyerabend who was cited above: "The context of assumptions in which I am working comprises those counter-positions to classical logical empiricism, established by such authors as N R Hanson, P K Feyerabend and T S Kuhn, such as the absence of any hard distinction between observational and theoretical language, the validity of multiple explanatory viewpoints, the existence of both continuous trajectories of theory development and discontinuous trajectories representing revolutionary episodes in the history of science or culture." (1978, p.260) He concludes: "From the foregoing it is clear that there are a variety of logical models at hand to understand inter-framework relationships and especially developmental transpositions between frameworks in history. The task of using these models practically in problems of classification, has yet scarcely been begun." (1978, p.272)

3. Incompatibility and paradox

Heelan indicates the relevance of his approach to relating certain incompatible theories of physics. The question is whether, by using the term "logical", he is restricting its relevance to situations in which the disagreement is less fundamental. How irrational can disagreement be and still be organized in some way? Both Feyerabend in his book Against Method (1975), and Heelan in identifying himself with "counter-positions" (quotation above), are taking up positions and "disagreeing" with others. They are therefore trapping themselves in a dynamic relationship without providing any organization for that disagreement thus leaving the basic difficulty unclarified. It would seem that the difficulty lies in the paradigm in which "positions are taken". The difficulty is less that of whether one takes a particular position and more that of the nature of the relationship to the positions one fails to understand or support (of which others, or the future, may understand more), especially when the "otherness" (Maurice Friedman, The Confirmation of Otherness, 1983) of that position can be conceived as a healthy complement, counteracting weaknesses in one's own position.

Paradox is implicit in the approach of Feyerabend and Heelan, but can it be made paradoxically explicit? Somehow any static "balance" between agreement and disagreement must be by-passed through a set of paradoxes which legitimate contradictory positions. It is strange that the absence of humour from the development of psycho-social organization is not a cause for comment given its fundamental importance to human beings, even in political life. Arthur Koestler has explored its relation to paradox and creativity (The Act of Creation, 1964). Can contradictory positions be mapped into a self-reflexive hierarchy of paradoxes in which dynamism is inherent? Such a context might then prove more appropriate for the dialectic process. At present this is rather like having access to the central component of an electric generator, without being able to mount it in a suitable framework so as to be able tap the energy generated to drive other psycho-social processes - and without tearing the mounting apart as it rotates between opposing positions.

The challenge that remains is therefore to explore "design" approaches (in de Bono's terms) to the possibility of generating a pattern of progressively more differentiated disagreements as a basis for a more appropriate manner of psycho-social organization.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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