Dealing with Complexity LO6568

Richard Karash (
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 19:15:31 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to Manuel Manga's LO6372 --

Earlier in System Archetypes? LO6329 of 31 Mar 1996 I said:
>Senge says that becoming a learning organization involves Aspiration,
>Reflection (indivually and jointly), and dealing with Complexity; that
>even if we have great aspirations and good reflection skills, we won't
>get far unless we can understand our complex world.

Manuel replied in LO6372 of 2 Apr 96:
>Richard while I agree with you and Senge that in order to be effective
>in designing learning organizations we all have to get better at
>"dealing with complexity and a complex world ",
>1. [..snip..] I distinguish the natural world and the
> human world. which world are you speaking of ?

My present msg was stimulated by off-list exchanges with Manuel Manga and
Mike McMaster and (more). I'll post it here as a reply to Manuel's recent

You've really got me thinking about the distinction between the "natural
world" and the "human world." A new thought that I'm turning over is a
different way of looking at the distinction... at least, different for me.

I used to think of the "external world" vs. "our world" where the second
is the world we perceive, with all the pecularities of human perception.
This might be individual perception or our joint perception.

The new distinction is different. It's between the "physical world" and
the "human world." The physical world is governed by laws and
relationships that are relatively fixed. We understand them only partially
and there is steady progress in understanding them more fully. But, for
example, the relative reactivity of metals is quite constant; we have
learned that aluminum will reduce iron ore in the thermite reaction, and
we are really quite sure that it will keep doing so. The laws and
realationships of the physical world are lasting, althought imperfectly

Now, the "human world" is the "world" we create by our mutual
interactions, by our language. It's the world of how people interact and
behave. We can and do study the human world to learn about what happens
there. We notice patterns of behavior and study them, perhaps looking more
deeply into them. The big difference is that in the human world, the "laws
and relationships" we observe are created by our culture, language,
interactions, our consensual domains created to date. They might change
greatly if we had been thinking differently, if a different accident had
been frozen. So, the laws and relationships in the human world need to be
studied differently and understood differently that the laws and
relationships in the natural

For example, people have told me over the years with great certainty that
"if someone is to do something, there has to be a benefit for them
personally." Well, we can see lots of data from day to day to support this
theory. But, regardless of how true it is in our real world, say in our
Western culture, this "law" does not have the permanence of the law about
relative reactivity of metals. This "law" comes from our culture and our
habits of thinking, and there are counter examples we can find that show
it's not immutable. If it is a pretty useful theory it's only because of
our cultural way of thinking.

Now, I suspect people know this tacitly (that is, without the ability to
articulate it). I've known it tacitly for a long time, but this is the
first time I've verbalized it.

I have constant curiousity why "science" has such a bad image in the
general population, and I'm thinking that this tacit knowing of the
changability of the human world is responsible for some of the deeply
seated discomfort with science in the public.

And, people who engage misdirected attempts to find permanent "laws" in
the human world must develop a schizophrenia about their methods.

I think that good, effective science would be smarter than this, that good
science would recognize that when we study the human world, we should be
looking for the pre-conceptions that make our human world the way it is
and try to see how to change them... Try to see what change in thinking
would make things different. I ahve just realized that this is what makes
for the possibility of "interventions" when we are taking a systems
thinking or systems dynamics look at a human/social system; scientists
looking at reactions of metals don't look for interventions (different
ways of thinking) that would make aluminium less reactive.

A fundamental error that I notice among people acting day to day in the
human works is this: They see Joe acting like a jerk... and think "Joe
*is* a jerk" without realizing the error in logic. (Instead of "jerk" we
can substitute lots of other words.) I think this is a confusion, a
mis-application of the principles that work in studying the physical world
but don't work in the human world. In the physical world, what we notice
aluminum acting "highly reactive" and think "aluminum *is* highly
reactive" and this is OK. But, the same sleight of thinking about things
in the human world is a disastrous mistake. Again, good science would be
smarter than this.

We look and see how the world is, zoom up the ladder of inference, and
un-consciously conclude that what we see is a fundamental, un-changable
reality. When in fact it's just an accident of human interaction created
by thinking that might just as easily have gone the other way.
-- Rick


Richard Karash ("Rick") | <> Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer | email: "Towards learning organizations" | Host for Learning-Org Mailing List (617)227-0106, fax (617)523-3839 | <>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>