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[xmca] Systems Theory: an informal stroll.

Continuing (this time quite briefly) the topic opened by Phillip below:

You ask how I have been using those multiple-connections but many people find speaking with me difficult, because I function many levels concurrently.  I've even been accused of being mushy, incomprehensible etc. So I think a very short personal history and my current job description might provide an index for a Batesonian take on organization.

When I was teaching Latin as a TA in Hawaii from 1976 to 1980, we had a 45 minute class every day, according to the class plan, but on Friday I brought in the coffee urn and doughnuts.  We occasionally had church potlucks which were fantastic.  Classics was connected to The Department of Foreign Languages.  For Christmas the multi-cultured staff produced a fantastic array of gorgeous foods for the departmental Christmas Party.  It left an impression.  I came to Japan in 1980.  Recursive learning, changes in context, changes in my personal capacity, levels of professional engagement, how to become a member and so on, that was all happening but I was not classifying it.  But in 1982 I started teaching at a Junior College and became aware of Gregory Bateson and started reading his work intently.   That is enough for a thumbnail of my academic bent: I teach activity learning, experiential learning, and real time learning, hands on learning, community language learning.

In my Communications class I would ask them to join me in organizing a party for Christmas or a barbecue for the Summer semester.  The event was the "material" from which I could make test questions in English.  The students would have to describe something that they had done personally and explicitly as the answer to a question such as "What was your job at the party?  What were your duties?"  I did not set out to do what I am doing now.  How does a Classics person go to director of a large project?  With no experience or training?  Well, Japan is different from America, and everybody knows you have to 1) do your job 2) make use of opportunities.  To know what you are looking for or aiming for takes a higher level of cognitive self-awareness.  I like to say, it's like Swamp Castle (Monty Python).  I got here by a series of mistakes, failures, and misunderstandings.  I build this year's glorious triumph on the rubble of last year's failure.

Through Bateson I was learning about Bertrand Russell.  I got onto Heisenberg.  I started reading Bertalannfy, Norbert Weiner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Korzybski, Goffman, wait wait wait.  I wasn't going to give a reading list now.  But working with problems of classification in literature with  led me to allegory, hermeneutics, interpretation.   Being a comparatist, well I compared systems, worlds, disciplines.  I wrote an article for a school journal called "Systems Theory: A New Syllabus for Oral English".  I suggested Logic, Notional/Functional and then Systems Theory as possible routes.  I was "teaching" (facilitating a large group learning) Bridge.  I used as my code word Blake's “I must create my own System or be enslaved by another man's."  If you look further at the Blake quote it goes on: "My business is not to reason and compare; my business is to create”  So that is what I was doing.

Unfortunately (or fortuitously) everything started changing more quickly than ever.  1980? Microchip?  Personal computers!  1994 or so, pocket pagers.  Every student had a pager with a digital time face, on every desk.  Within a few years, it was cell phones, text mail.  Japan's economic bubble burst.  The baby boom peaked and the university population suddenly began to drop.  Faculties were changing.  Year long courses gave way to "semester" courses.  Because of the economic problems, students who would not have gone to college at all entered to wait out the slump.  Meanwhile, Japan was modelling its university system on Europe, then England, then US (I just ran through 150 years of evolution in one sentence).

I was a victim of the Peter Principle.  You get promoted to the level of your incompetence.  I was good at teaching communication, developing good classes and developing independent research, only to be promoted to the next higher level, where I was supposed to Head Committees.  In Japanese.  Sigh.  Moreover, my "event planning/ project management" "Party" was not understood by anybody, I never could teach them Bridge, we had to go to Hearts, which is different - but has its points, and after ten years, the students rebelled and took over my event!  I am still titular head and the management is still connected to my class, but it is student managed and an important student event.  Whenever I go to US I talk to people about my problems.  I read Argyris, Weick, Lave and Wenger, Peter Senge.  

To frame the discussion, a sytems schema is really useful.  Begin with What is the system -- a name, then definition.  Then go to what is it made of - parts, connections, relations.  Then sub-units or even subsystems.  Think of the human body as The System and then you can see that there are lots of subsystems.  But then you put that system in a context or system of systems.  You can also go on to contextual analysis from immediate context, to proximate context to global context.  

General Systems Theory and set theory, for example,  (the name is not the thing named, the map is not the territory)  helped me map out an approach to allegory using the Medieval "Four Senses of Scripture".  Literal is the words, sentences, the meanings of words.  The allegorical level (not allegory - there is a lot of paradox in this whole thing anyway) where there is figurative language, similes, metaphors, allusions, modal language -- like irony or satire, praise or simple reporting. Then there is tropological or sensus moralis, which could be said to be talking about "what should this man do" but with the reader response criticism and Merleau Ponty's phenomenolgy, I think we can say that it is what a particular individual brings to his reading, the absolute personal is also a valid reading, but not the only one.  Final, there is the anagogical which amounts to a universal, a pure abstract.  With these four levels of working with a "text", be it a children's story, a sculpture, a prehistoric archeological find, an ancient manuscript, a dream, a film, the debriefing for an event, we can begin with the details of what happened, then what does this material begin to show with discussion, what is called to mind from other works or experiences. The description, WHAT IS IT is the SYSYEM, and with that as the center, we can see what systems it is part of, and how works in various contexts.  I would teach such a framework to facilitate learning about literature, film appreciation, and organizational communication.

As it turns out, there are so many differences between the Summer Party and the Christmas Party, such changes in curriculums, the core requirements, the major requirements and the electives, and the student self-image evolution from year to year, the population etc., I neither know what is going to happen next year or have enough time to evaluate what happened this year.  If I am not here, the students do as they like, but not in a direction.  The 2nd year students aren't so interested in posterity but focus on THIS YEAR.  The 3rd year students are, but everyone goes to their specialty teacher as a 3rd year student, so the network is fragile.  Getting a volunteer, variously skilled older staff of students to coach and mentor the 2nd year managers, is my job.  I want to "ride this horse the way it is going."  Which means I am stuck here, gladly planted here, to see how this works out, and maybe write something about it someday.  

Last note:  General Systems Theory can loosely be devided into Control (cybernetics) or Description (mapping/iteration).
The Myers-Briggs personality index (derived from C.J. Jungs work) helps rationalize relationship in a class, school, office.  It is an amazing discovery to know that we are different, think differently, have different experiences and training, and encode our memories differently.  This is the mapping system that I think might help us deal with some of the problems we are facing now with cultural historical activity theory, the need for evaluation, the need to promote and encourage creativity, cooperation, and collaboration.  First we work out which terms and their alternatives and meanings a plot them on a map, which we change every time we work with it.  We can ask how to put in feed-back loops, noise, encoding decoding, define input and output, how to work with a closed system or open system, etc.  Not aiming for clarifying what divides us but generating techniques of pathmaking towards utilizing and valuing what brings us together.

On 平成23/01/13, at 12:41, White, Phillip wrote:

> Valerie, your posting - a great bouquet of multiple blooms - reminded me again about Gregory's proposal of a double-bind, which was his explanatory theory for the cause of schizophrenia - remarkable since he usually eschewed cause and effect reasoning - but thus far the idea of a double-bind has gained great cultural currency - and, like you, i was greatly intrigued to find it in Engstrom's dissertation - an ingenious re-reading of Bateson's text, i've always thought.
> what i'm ruminating on now as far as cultural historical activity theory is coinciding with my rereading of  "mind and nature: a necessary unity" - where Bateson notes that we folks tend to think that patterns that connect are fixed affairs; he also states that over time theories need to be discarded. while they may have once worked, they no longer work.
> a friend of mine was once a shadow scholar - it was how she made a living as she progressed through her doctoral program.
> anyway, it makes great sense to me that you found Engstrom through Bateson - there are multiple connections there between the two -  
> and now i'm wondering how you have been using those multiple connections ...............................although, yes you've given two fine examples here - i'm just hoping for some more bouquets.
> phillip 
> Phillip White, PhD
> University of Colorado Denver
> School of Education
> phillip.white@ucdenver.edu
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of valerie A. Wilkinson [vwilk@inf.shizuoka.ac.jp]
> Sent: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 5:25 PM
> To: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
> Subject: RE: [xmca] FW: The Shadow Scholar - He writes your students' papers.
> Hello Excmers,
> Subtitle: "Yep son, We have met the enemy and he is us." ("Pogo" Walt
> Kelley)
> This note is a continuation of Phillip White's contribution to this thread!
> (See below) Thread did I say?  It is a thick corded braid, but let's carry
> on. I realize that many of you know each other, many of you have been
> writing for years, teaching etc. and then some of us lurk and read and
> occasionally attempt to participate.  I am one of those, if you wish to bear
> with me for a few moments.
> Phillip mentioned Gregory Bateson and Lave and Wenger. Is that enough to
> locate this work in an intellectual context, without having to drop names or
> put in a lengthy bibliography?  Well, I hope so, because after my undergrad
> in Classics, my graduate work in various other literatures I ran into
> Bateson via Co-evolution Quarterly and the Whole Earth Catalogue. Then Steps
> to an Ecology of Mind.
> Overleaping the problems of plagiarism and teaching, and the other ones of
> learning communities and intellectual communities, easily moving to the
> terminology conceptual stuff going on when specialties are bumping up
> against each other and interdisciplinary studies and transdisciplinary work,
> I say way too glibly we always had categorizing problems in Classics because
> we were doing 2 languages at first, plus plays, poetry, philosophy, rhetoric
> (I could go anywhere but I had to go somewhere) Grad school and teaching
> assistantship (that's when I really started to learn Latin and also about
> "cribbing").  Daily assignments in Greek (reading Aristotle) and Old English
> (Beowulf). Overleaping all that and moving on to Life as an Ordinary
> language teacher in Japan, I have two common experiences that have a bearing
> on this discussion.  A) I proof read a fellow scholar's paper and B) I proof
> read my son's English composition.
> I feel like The Shadow Scholar.
> A, hoping to be published in an International Journal, may have done
> original research but has a general and a specific context that I am not
> trained in, Japanese language I do not know and scientific terminology
> specific to the area and also the target journal. We do Shadow Scholar like
> things.  We merge our vocabulary and style with the researcher's
> translation. I say we, because a friend and I have debated the level
> required of editing. Grammar, spelling, flow, layout, OK.  But should we
> attempt to erase any sign of the awkwardness of going from one language to
> another? As time goes on, the professors ask me less and less often because
> they have funding for professional translators but their students do not.
> The students are learning to "fake" the style so that they can give a
> conference paper or have their work published -- and they don't have the
> money.  So, these are people at the same institution of learning, but they
> are not my students.  What product we put into the mix may go into the
> Turnitin mill or something.
> B is my son who grew up in Japan and is now aiming for University in the
> States.  His composition has to be original and readable.  I cannot write it
> for him but the process should develop his awareness of all kinds of things.
> He can't give me his paper ten minutes before class for a quick fix and get
> anything out of his education.  I mean, there is the quick check level, of
> course.  Spelling, mostly, and cosmetic grammar, but pulling the ideas out
> of himself to create a composition.  Well, he has to do that and I can't do
> it for him.
> Since school, I have been interested in reception theory, Stanley Fish,
> women's critical studies, and it comes down to LEVELS, set theory, paradox.
> For me (a truly "ordinary" person figuring out how to live on the planet
> with mega-stuff going on personally (100% divorce rate in the family),
> politically (hey, I voted for Nixon because I didn't know better and got
> sucked into the machine), economically (oil embargo?) and counter-culture,
> leading to 30 years of being an ex-pat (has everyone already stopped
> reading?)
> Gregory Bateson, and his intellectual lineage, plus my own work with levels
> of allegorical interpretation -- the making of allegory and allegorical
> exegesis -- led me to communication and the study of everything. As a
> Communication foreign professor working inevitably with inter and trans
> disciplinarity (which is very mushy) well, I can tell in 2 or 3 minutes if
> the student I am interviewing can "hear" English, in one hand written
> self-intro, find out how he organizes his mind, training, self-discipline --
> tons of stuff appears. Like Borges Garden of Forking Paths, there are many
> twists and turns.  I do not get to pick my students or the number of
> students, arrange the room, the number of times in a week or the length of
> the class period.  Also, I do not generally get to meet excellent people of
> refinement and integrity who have no interest in English at all and do the
> absolute minimum.  What happens when a generalist meets a specialist? In a
> non-cooperative game some things happen, but in a cooperative game (think
> Kropotkin's _Mutual Aid_), well, other things happen that are completely
> different, and we can't all have a resident anthropologist of Bateson's
> caliber (anyway, he called himself a biologist) on the staff and it turns
> out that some of these long term staff ladies know more about everything
> than anyone in the faculty and they have good memories -- but they do not
> have the academic training - which would have taken them out of the very
> position where they do the most good -- and if you read Buckminster Fuller's
> Operating Manual for _Spaceship Earth_, it turns out that specialists are
> intellectual property, power, authorization and everything.  Look for the
> power behind the throne or the shadow scholar.  Not Shakespeare but the
> alien/meta-aristocrat genius who used him as a cover... An experiment of
> uncompromised integrity in a closed system is one thing, but how about a
> study in a multi-cultured open-system of systems?
> We had gotten on to the mush which the quantum physics stuff was making of
> everything cognitive (and making a mess of that topic) but actually, how we
> process information when operating in Beta or Alpha or Theta brainwave
> levels changes the terms and images by which we process, and the mode of
> processing.  Meanwhile Interdisciplinary Studies lead to Environmental
> Studies which leads to Shell or Mobile or Exxon funded university programs
> and Blue Sky acts.
> I am not a Vygotskian yet, but an Engestrom afficianado, whom I found when
> working with Bateson's Double Bind. But I am certainly a widely educated
> scholar/teacher of a certain level and cognitive training, and follow the
> discussions here with consummate interest.
> Valerie__________________________________________
> _____
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Valerie A. Wilkinson, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication
Faculty of Information, Shizuoka University
3-5-1 Johoku, Hamamatsu, Japan 432-8011
phone 81 (53) 478-1529

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