Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Patterns of alternation: Cycles of dissonance and resonance

Global Strategies Project


1. Dissonant harmony and holistic resonance

As Attali has shown (1977), music remains one of the clearest domains in terms of which the thinking underlying any social order can be discussed. It provides a more concretely accessible language with which to comprehend the subtleties and distinctions reviewed in the previous entries. Thus the composer Dane Rudhyar, in a study of spatialization of tone experience, confronts the basic duality of those entries:

"The basic issues is, should we think of the notion of separate, entities in space, or of rhythmic movements of space producing entities which, though they may appear to be separate are in fact only differentiated areas of space and temporary condensations of energy ? This may seem to be a highly metaphysical issue having very little to do with music or the other arts, but it is actually the most basic issue a culture and its artists (and even the organizers and leaders of the society) have to face" (1982, p. 412).

Rudhyar points out that the need for order is basic in human consciousness. "But the kind of order human consciousness demands and expects varies at each level of its evolution" (p. 93). In the realm of music, Westerners have needed a type of musical order which makes it very clear that classical works constitute an integrated whole with a consistent tonal structure.

"Tonality is a system by which the innate pluralism of a society is kept within a definitive operative structure. Its manifestation is not so much in melodic sequence as in chordal harmony... Each melodic tone carries an identifying badge announcing clearly where it belongs, not so much in relation to the tonic as in terms of its place and function in the tonal bureaucracy. This is the ransom for the ideal of universalism... Multiplicity and differences are the evident realities; the principle that makes possible the harmonization of these differences has to work throughout the society, up and down the scale. It has to be able to be "transposed" to any place, to meet any situation. It is universal, but it has to be imposed upon the many units. It needs the complex power of chords to achieve that purpose. In other words, in our pluralistic European music the instinctual psychic power of integration that once was inherent in sequences of tones had to be replaced by the harmonizing impact of chords clearly stating the tonality to which melodic notes belong. Cadences of chords also make the hearer expect how the melody will develop. .." (p. 9).

For Rudhyar, any society or work of art is a complex whole composed of many parts which may be organized in two fundamentally different ways. In social organization they may be termed the tribal order and the companionate order. In music these are analogous to what he calls the consonant order and the dissonant order. The tribal order, founded on biological relationships in a community, derives its sense of unity from the past and all the associated (paternalistic) traditions which give rise to such a compulsive, quasi-instinctual feeling-realization. The musical equivalent is the harmonic series and overtones in the classical tonality system.

The companionate order begins with a multiplicity of differentiated individuals and strives to achieve unity as a future condition. If achieved it has to be "unity in diversity" through the harmonization of unsuppressed differences. Rudhyar argues that the musical equivalent of this is to be found in what the calls syntonic music in which the experience of tone is unconstrained by the intellectual concepts of the classical tonality system. Tonal relationships are included in the space relationships of syntonic music, but the rules, patterns, and cadences obligatory in tonality-controlled music normally hinder the development of syntonic consciousness. In syntonic music the notes are drawn into holistic group formations. Instead of emerging from a tonic, they seek the interpenetrative condition of dissonant chords, as pleromas of sounds. "These are limited in content; each has its own principle of organization, which determines the content of the pleroma" (1982, p. 1425).

In these terms, Rudhyar considers that melody is aesthetic in the tonality system associated with the culturally organized tribal order,and expressionistic in a society characterized by transformation. In the latter case its essential attributes are dissonances, rooted in their own musical space. Such dissonant chords can generate, when properly space, a far more powerful resonance than so-called perfect consonances, because of the phenomena of beats and combinations tones (p. 1436), which engender beauty of another order (p. 141). "A pleroma of sounds refers to the process of harmonization through which differentiated vibratory entities are made to interact and interpenetrate in order to release a particular aspect of the resonance inherent in the whole of the musical space (accessible to human ears), its holistic resonance, its Tone" (p. 139140). As examples of such holistic resonance, he notes the traditional role and effect of gongs (in Eastern societies) and church bells (in the West). Such effects are also produced by two cymbals tuned to slightly different pitches, giving rise to a vibrant tone because of the interference pattern of the two different frequencies (p. 141) - a case reminiscent of Maruyama's binocular vision analogy. Most striking however is the manifestation of such effects in the technique of over-tone singing.

Rudhyar concludes that although consonant harmony has its place and function and should be enjoyed, its danger lies in re-inforcing psychological attachment to the "matricial security and comfort" of the cultural framework with which it is associated. This bond prevents the individual from developing creative spontaneity and thereby engaging fully in the processes of social transformation (p. 162).

2. Interwoven alternatives: resonance hybrids

The set of alternative structures, between which alternation takes place, may be more clearly understood in the light of the theory of resonance. Johan Galtung first explored the possibility of using the organization of chemical molecules to clarify the description of social organization (1977). He dealt with fixed structures and not with the transition between alternatives. The theory of resonance in chemistry is concerned with the representation of the actual normal state of molecules by a combination of several alternative "resonable" structures, rather than by a single valence-bond structure. The molecule is then conceived as resonating among the several valence-bond structures, or rather to have a structure that is a resonance hybrid of these structures.

The classic example of a resonance hybrid is the benzene molecule of 6 carbon atoms for which F A Kekulé introduced the idea of oscillation between two alternative structures. The pattern of oscillation was later extended by Linus Pauling to include three more distinct alternates. The actual configuration is a resonance hybrid of the five forms, which through quantum mechanics has been shown to have an energy less than any of the alternate structures. This is potentially of great significance for any social structure analogue, in view of the call for a low-energy society. Given the fundamental role of the benzene molecular configuration as the basis for most living structures, it is worth asking (in the light of the sixfold restraint discussed in earlier entries) why it is composed of six atoms. The answer is that it is this configuration which ensures minimal strain on the distribution of the four valency bonds of each carbon atom, thus resulting in a minimal energy configuration. It is worth reflecting on this model in the light of the research showing that the upper limit for effective committee or task force organization, the basis for social organization, is seven, plus or minus one.

Such structures recall the context of Bohm's arguments concerning unfoldment of explicate forms. The wave function representing a stationary state of a resonance hybrid in quantum mechanics can be expressed as the sum of the wave functions that correspond to several hypothetical alternates. The proper combination is that sum which leads to a minimal energy for the system. Of significance in any social structure analogue is that the higher energy of each alternate is associated with some degree of "distortion" (different in kind in each case), which effectively renders the alternate meta-stable. (Also worth exploring is the contrasting concept of a "resonance particle". This is any exceedingly unstable high energy particle, which may be considered as a composite of several relatively stable low energy particles into which it may decay.)

Resonance hybrids could well provide a key to the conception, design and operation of coalitions of people or groups which could not cohere for any length of time in one single form but could be stable if the coalition alternated between distinct forms. Underlying this possibility, hybrids are also of interest in integrating incompatible perspectives, paradigms and policies without eroding their distinctiveness in some simplistic compromise. Whilst the value of using such tensegrity or resonance models may be contested, they do have the advantage of shifting the debate, currently somewhat sterile, to a level at which the merits of particular answers are no longer the sole issue. The need is for investigation of "resonable" structures, however "unreasonable" they may appear from any particular perspective. They open the way to more fruitful discussions both about how alternation between the opposing answers characteristic of a complex society can be improved and about the kinds of social structures that could be based upon such patterns of alternation.

3. Learning cycles

The approach to learning discussed in previous entries is too basic for it to be possible to derive much of significance that can be applied directly to organizations. The problem lies in the Western bias discussed in favour of learning in an essentially linear direction, even if Bateson's learning "zigzag" is recognized. If the zigzag is considered as occurring around a learning cycle however, marrying in the Eastern bias towards recurrence, this cycle can then be subdivided into sufficiently detailed elements to be of significance for organizational operations. Jantsch discusses cyclical organization in terms of the system logic of dissipative self-organization:

"Hypercycles, which link autocatalytic units in cyclical organization, play an important role in many natural phenomena of self-organization, spanning a wide spectrum from chemical and biological evolution to ecological and economic systems and systems of population growth. The cyclical organization of a system may itself evolve if autocatalytic participants mutate or new processes become introduced. The co-evolution of participants in a hypercycle leads to the notion of an ultracycle which generally underlies every learning process". (1980, p. 15)

The question then becomes how many discontinuous phases (Jantsch's "participants") it is useful to distinguish in the cycle. Too few and the incompatibilities between them are too fundamental, too many and the distinctions between them are too subtle. The operational significance of this conceptual constraint has been explored in earlier papers from which it is apparent that significance is lost if more than about 7 categories are used (James W Botkin, 1979), unless the total breaks down into sub-sets based on simple factors.

A novel approach to the learning cycle in relation to action has been taken by Arthur Young (1978) as a consequence of his experience as the inventor of the Bell helicopter (whose three-dimensional movement is notoriously difficult to control - as with the development process). He established the vital learning-action link through a new interpretation of the operational significance of the set of 12 "measure formulae" through which material phenomena are observed, acted upon and controlled in physics and engineering. These he portrays as corresponding to a series of phases in a learning-action cycle. Of special interest for the development theme is the significance he attaches to the sequence of movement around the cycle: one direction involving essentially unremembered experience-without-learning, the other involving conscious-learning-action. His approach has been adapted and modified to further emphasize the action-learning significance (see table). It is interesting that the philosopher Stephane Lupasco also attaches importance to the analysis of such measures in terms of the polarities they constitute and the types of energy with which they are associated (1973, p. 26).

This approach clarifies how portions of such a cycle are vulnerable to institutionalization (as specialized, independent answer domains, or habitual responses) to the extent that there is no learning bridge across the discontinuities. The problem of (social) integration is thus intimately related to the functioning of (collective) learning cycles. It seems probable that needs (and their satisfiers) also relate to different portions of such cycles, as would ranges of incompatible development goals or alternative visions of desirable futures. In each case the point to be emphasized is that such seemingly incompatible fragments are "frozen" portions of a cycle with which individuals or groups identify. None are of lasting significance in their own right,especially insofar as they hinder the collective learning process which must take place through them.

The facilitative and obstructive factors to further learning (i.e. successful "struggle" in marxist terms) at each stage in the cycle are probably linked to patterns of complementarity and incompatibility between the stages according to their memberships of (2,3, or 4-member) sub-sets in the cycle (e.g. preceding and succeeding stages in the cycle are in conflictual relationship since they would correspond to thinking of the opposite hemisphere). Answers given from any part of a cycle are of course "questionable" as perceived from other parts of the cycle.

As noted earlier, a single cycle is not a sufficiently concrete representation of the complexity to be encompassed by an adequate meta-answer. Where several cycles interlock to form a sphere, the nodes are effectively combinations of cyclic phases. The relationships of challenge and harmony between such nodes have been discussed in earlier papers concerning Fuller's tensegrity concept (1975, 1979). It is this which clarifies the potential and vulnerability of networking as an essentially right hemisphere mode of organization which needs to be more "seductively" married to the much-criticized left-hemisphere, hierarchical mode.

The acid test of learning cycles however, is whether they can encompass the discontinuities between the major political tendencies by which the world community is seemingly divided. Any such relationship posited must necessarily be highly controversial, but the controversy should be patterned according to the aspects of the learning challenges involved.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential