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Challenge: Transcending methodological limitations

Metaphor Project


1. Availability of imagery as a policy constraint

Many studies contributing to policy proposals continue to be made totally independently of any consideration of the imagery through which they may ultimately need to be presented. Many disciplines have a strong bias against imagery of any kind as well as against any consideration of the process whereby insights are communicated.

Such biases are inappropriate if only because of the recognized importance of metaphor and imagery in creative thinking (Van Noppen at al., 1985) even in the hardest of sciences such as fundamental physics (Miller, 1986). It is clear however that within any disciplinary framework or jargon there is little need for imagery because the practitioners share a common imaginal framework. There are terms for everything that needs to be communicated.

The situation is quite different when dealing with policy proposals emanating from different disciplinary, political, cultural and ideological contexts. In such settings each faction tends to view the methods and explanations of others with suspicion or contempt. The language and concepts used communicate increasingly poorly according to the conceptual distance between them (Feyerabend, 1987). In parliamentary debate this is frequently signalled by the use of "absurd", "irrelevant", "naive", "irresponsible", "incomprehensible" and "ridiculous" in referring to proposals from opposing factions.

2. Prosthetics and scaffolding for interdisciplinarity

"Interdisciplinary method" is at this point a contradiction in terms. A discipline is characterized by its methods. Despite three decades of general systems, no interdisciplinary method appropriate to the complex challenge of the times has achieved any degree of acceptance. Where such "methods" have been used in very specific situations, they take the form of administrative procedures for ensuring that a succession of experts comment on or discuss issues, but without any pretence at conceptual integration in the final report. Integration is left to the end-user, as exemplified by a term in German translating as "book-binding synthesis".

Since this situation has prevailed through several development decades, during which "interdisciplinarity" and "integration" have been favoured buzz words, it is worth asking whether a more radical approach could not be fruitfully explored. Is it possible that the functionality which "interdisciplinarity" and "integration" endeavour to denote is to be found at a different level, and in a different form, than that at which the methodological and other differences are so evident?

Specifically, are there comprehensible images or metaphors, of requisite complexity, onto which the insights of different constituencies of expertise can be mapped so as to establish the dynamics and boundaries of their relationships without eroding or destroying their identity? This possibility, explored by Bateson (1987), appears to call for much comment and detailed explanation in the light of this or that methodology. But it could be argued that any such explanation would merely be a further contribution to the existing communication problem. A more fruitful route forward would be to consider ways of identifying, designing and testing such metaphors in practice.

3. Marrying metaphor and interactive graphics

This proposal is not as radical as it might appear. The most advanced thinking in many disciplines is expressed in terms of objects and surfaces in a complex space. In some cases computer techniques are used to assist visualization of such spaces as a guide to further theoretical development. The suggestion is that some effort be devoted to "marrying" such uses of imagery with those developed by animators or with those based on features of the environment with which people have a familiar relationship.

4. Extra-paradigmatic dimensions: beyond the binary

Before considering the implications in response to real problems, it is appropriate to note the constructive criticism by Kinhide Mushakoji of what he calls "binary" approaches in science and disciplines affected by its methodology. "By the very nature of scientific logic which is binary, intellectuals tend to form bi-polar structures with two opposed camps rallied under two paradigmatic banners. The polarization often takes place even within each of the two poles which then divide themselves into sub-poles, and so on...An inter-paradigmatic process should be able to break the bi-polarity of the intellectual community by introducing a third pole in the dialogical process... The role of such a pole is to introduce extra-paradigmatic considerations (into the discussion) and to break the dichotomic argumentation thus bringing into the discussion innovative ideas." (Mushakoji, 1978). Edward de Bono has advocated the use of a special term "po" to accomplish precisely this (De Bono, 1973).

5. Fourfold grasp of reality

But Mushakoji goes on to draw attention to the "logico-real" problem of the relationship between the logical and the reality levels. He suggests that catastrophe theory can help to shed light on the different logical positions in the morphogenetic space by relating the continuous reality (i.e. signifié) to the discrete set of concepts (i.e. significant).

This leads him to advocate a four-fold non-formal logic model to provide a logical basis for inter-paradigmatic dialogues. Such a logic emerges from another Japanese scholar, Tokuryu Yamauchi (Yamauchi, 1974) who interrelates oriental thinking based on "lemmas" with occidental thinking based on "logos". Lemma concerns the modalities according to which the human mind grasps reality, rather than how human intellect reasons about it. Mushakoji sees the lemmic approach as offering a breakthrough in response to the static ontology of the West.

The tetralemmic model Mushakoji describes stipulates the existence of four lemmas:

    (a) affirmation,
    (b) negation,
    (c) non-affirmation and non-negation,
    (d) affirmation and negation.
Here (a) and (b) both belong to formal logic, whereas (c) and (d) are unacceptable to it, although they are necessary in theoretical physics. "Only an acceptance of the third and fourth lemmas can allow a full representation of the contemporary world problematique in its totality since contemporary world reality is full of cases where a mere affirmation or negation does not make sense".

6. Reframing reality

It is unfortunate that Mushakoji has limited his concern to representing or grasping reality for the purposes of revolution in thinking. This does not respond to the problem of how to intervene in that reality on the basis of any such conceptual revolution -- the vital preoccupation in furthering human and social development. And yet the four lemmas lend themselves to such an action-oriented interpretation as the basis for a more general "action logic" discussed elsewhere (UIA, 1986).

Following Mushakoji's lead concerning catastrophe theory, essentially what could usefully be explored is the possibility of enabling people to recognize how they redefine the morphogenetic surface on which they function. The switch metaphor is associated with a surface with two focal positions (attractors or wells) separated by a "coll" and surrounded by impracticable "mountains". The challenge is to modify that topography to offer a multiplicity of alternatives -- including the original positions.

In this light it is interesting to note that Denis Postle (Catastrophe Theory; predict and avoid personal disasters, 1980) has demonstrated how catastrophe theory may be used by an individual to map his own behaviour and the critical areas on that map at which stress and breakdown are possible. 

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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