The Divergence of Thought in Science & Philosophy: Could “Complexity” be New Common Ground?

CHARLOTTE, NC. October 2011, by

Knowledge is a gift best appreciated when we don’t try to think about it. As a topic of focus, it frequently defies words. It grows more elusive as we attempt to draw closer to its source.

And, though we make complex decisions every day, we routinely fail to grasp what it means to truly understand something. For many reasons (outlined elsewhere in this thread) we fail to engage what’s presented in a discerning way.

My research on critical thinking is making one fact crystal clear: it’s high time we raised the bar on how well, and how deeply, we dare to think.

So let’s unpack the concept of epistemology. To most, it’s hopelessly obscure, a word dying to stay hidden in text books. Yet it’s a vital to understanding a foundational divide in Western thinking. I define it like this:

An epistemology is a holistic framework for knowledge, giving us a set of consistent, simple rules for how we should describe that knowledge and apply it in practice.

Looking back over the centuries, 8 famous epistemologies dating to Aristotle, Bacon and DesCartes mark clear fault lines between science and philosophy. It is a separation between those who think in terms of empirical ’cause and effect’ vs. those who tend to think more intuitively, in ‘patterns’.

Evolution of Knowledge Frameworks (c) 2011 Chris Jones

Both modes of thinking have, in the long run, proven fertile. The problem that developed was an all-or-none orientation. The rift was widest during the 19th century, as Hegel and Mill battled for mind share. In the wake of this, sadly, a long standing respect among academic schools of thought was all but gone. And the lingering cultural effects continue to impede progress across many domains, ranging from business to government to public education.

In the 21st century, we can only look back at the damage that’s been done, and ask “why”?

Thankfully, neuroscience is proving a potent field of discovery, and it’s helping us better unpack how the human brain works, yielding important insight on the psychology of thinkers. Back in the 1970’s, in the earliest stages of discovery, we thought we could isolate reason to one region, or imagination to another. But our first steps were tentative, and sometimes wrong. More recently, a more coherent picture is beginning to take shape. Here’s what’s being concluded now:

  • Our left brain is our associative center, the home of “cause and effect” thinking, the place where we focus and categorize and label every detail. It is where we refine what we already know. Think science. Think public education.
  • Our right brain is the hub of our pattern matching capability, where we seek new information that arrives in diverse or unfamiliar forms; it’s where we scan the environment, search for clues, and try to relate ourselves to the world around us. Think philosophy. Think ethics. Think culture.

It would appear that key thinkers of our time, and whole schools of thought that emerged under their guidance, have a strong bias in their cognitive models.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that the pursuit of knowledge over the last 2,500 years has been split into two camps: the left brain camp of empirical science, and the right brain camp of the intuitive philosopher. Thanks to the industrial revolution, science has generally won most of the debates. Philosophy has not fared well, losing anything resembling critical mass.

But all that can change, and I do think there’s hope.

Ultimately, it’s a question of restoring balance. Where science struggles for context and where philosophy struggles for anchoring, the two worlds share a common ground that, ironically, has always been there. Often shrouded in it’s own complexity, I present to you:

The real world.

Rather than argue the point, I’ve shown the two divergent branches of knowledge in the graphic, above. I’ve identified 4 leading thinkers and their knowledge frameworks aka epistemologies in each branch. As we near the present day, you’ll notice fewer discrete frameworks, and a dearth of contributions from the philosophical ranks. But there’s also a convergence of sorts. The real world lies in the middle, balanced, as it were, between two cognitive extremes that, by themselves, cannot describe our reality in a holistic way.

We need both halves of our brains to function. To reason. To imagine. To understand.

As I was finalizing the graphic that helped me bring this post to words, I came across an intensely fascinating, and highly relevant TED talk by Iain McGilchrist. Thanks to Jennifer Sertl for teeing it up on G+.

I’m seeing a harmony of thinking made possible when a greater share of our left-brain and right-brain mental resources are tapped. There is much negative thinking to undo; we must move outside some exceedingly strong professional paradigms. But as we do, I see us replacing conflict and stalemate with a genuine hope for new possibilities. I openly wonder what might happen when we embrace empirical facts and rational insights in their full, raw, hopelessly unrealized potential. Stephen Johnson says great ideas come from other great ideas. So it’s time .. high time .. we get scientists and philosophers talking again. There will be a richness in the diversity of their epistemologies that will foster the new ideas we need.

The topics?

  • New epistemological frameworks for complexity.
  • New common ground for a world that is hopelessly in need of it.
  • A fundamental rethinking of how we frame public education.

For the scientists needing proof? Look no further than the K12 Ecosys.

Pencils down, folks. Let the deep conversations begin again.


48 thoughts on “The Divergence of Thought in Science & Philosophy: Could “Complexity” be New Common Ground?

  1. Another post that has me thinking way more deeply than is comfortable.

    My first impression around this.. as I am an INTP with an iNtuitive score of 100.. is “breath in breath out”. My knowledge of classic philosophers is minimal but I do have a pretty good grasp of indigenous belief systems and the ways of making sense of a world where science and philosophy are the same albeit the science may be crude by our standards.

    Here are some more random thoughts on this – I think what you are describing, as an ideal, is somewhat like the playing of classical piano music. The left and right hand playing different notes, holding different musical space but complimenting one another. Or maybe it’s a jazz quartet.. I can best hold a ” harmony of thinking’ as a full metaphor. I can feel your idea :-)

    If we succeed in pulling the conflicting epistemologies back together, what will that create? Conflict facilitates a creative tension that we may not want to do without.. or am I jst too attached to my ego that I can’t perceive of a frictionless society where no one loses but no one wins either? Will we lose an innovative edge by minimizing diversity? Just pondering here.

    I like what you say about balance and learning holistically. The school system as I recall it was possibly the most siloed and fractured environment I have ever experienced. The solution to that seemed obvious to me when I was a kid.. blend the course work and use team teaching. Both/and instead or either/or. Problem based learning is one way to integrate that but I still don’t see that being done. Why isn’t it being done?

    Isn’t a framework for complexity almost an oxymoron? More later…

    • You’ve captured the essence of my thinking well, Jamie.

      And that of Steve Barth, Koan Zero (probably my favorite all-time post).

      It’s not that one or the other mode of cognition is better or more appropriate. McGilchrist as a practicing psychologist said it at TED far better than I could – what’s needed is BOTH modes of thought, left and right, reductive and intuitive. Holding both capabilities in delicate balance is where the magic of being human lies. Unfortunately, in practice, our social institutions have leaned hard to the left side on this. Christensen, Sir Kenneth Robinson, McGilchrist – all are saying the same thing. My picture, then, is really a historical visualization.

      The reason I developed it? I was struck by the depth of the duality over the centuries, the sharpness of the 19th century debate (much of it influenced by Darwin,of course). And I was intrigued how both extremes levied the same general accusation: neither side was sufficiently grounded in reality. “Lab experiments aren’t reality” Agreed. “Archetypes and universals aren’t reality” Agreed.

      But in the middle, there is a reality that both extremes can inform.

      A complex reality.

      Great points, Jamie – looking forward to more.

      • “Holding both capabilities in delicate balance is where the magic of being human lies.”

        That’s particularly where Handy shines. I get overwhelmed by all that he says so much that I still haven’t finished “Paradox”.

  2. Well, this is one huge can-o-whoop-a$$, Mister — and kudos to you for opening it. There’s a lot to unpack here so I’m starting by dropping a few Grimm Brother crumbs here (in true Rotkapchen style) so I can find my way back (or forward after going in circles for a while).

    The infographic is stunning. I’m still trying to assess the dimensions and the scope (who should be ‘in’ and who should be ‘out’).

    There are any number of people who understand the context of where these people fit, far better than I. I only collect thinkers — I’ve never attempted to classify them like this.

    I’ll go round up some others to join in, but while I’m gone I’m dropping a list of “names of interest”. To better understand your scope, please let us know if you specifically considered and then excluded any of these and why — it will help establish the context (there are at least 4 here that would be considered pillars of influence):

    Margaret Wheatley (who synthesized the thoughts of others to apply to business, esp. Iilya Prigogine)
    Stewart Kaufman
    Brian Holland
    Werener Heisenberg (see “Physics and Philosophy”)
    Fritjof Capra
    John Dewey
    Charles Handy
    Ralph Stacey and Patricia Shaw
    Russell Ackoff
    Donald Schon
    Arie de Geus
    Otto Scharmer
    Michael D. McMaster
    Chris Rodgers
    Kevin Kelly

    • Yes, I admit, this was a bit ambitious. But once drawn on a very large, unfolded napkin, it was not a picture I could put away.

      It may have been safer to include fewer names, than more. Had I shown only Aristotle/Bacon/Newton on the one side and Socrates/Plato/DesCartes on the other, I’d have been safer. But the magic comes further on, as the epistemologies evolved.

      So the omissions are due to, in order:

      • my own ignorance – which is plentiful! – though looking at your list I regret already leaving out Wheatley, Dewey, Handy, and 1-2 others; I know just where they’d fit;
      • thinkers without discrete frameworks, as I’m harboring vague and ill-advised notions of convergence, and wanted to survey what had been framed to date;
      • lack of space to make the picture larger.

      Of course, any and all input/corrections are welcome. But I’m going to try to hold this level of detail in the overall frame. We can add or subtract names without penalty. But I don’t want to add pages or reduce the font.

      Bread crumbs, yes, I use them often. But for me, they’re colored stickies, made by 3M.

      Thanks, as always, for being a part. Let’s see where this goes!

  3. Awesome clarity… whose your editor:o) (kidding of course). Chris, great perspective. I agree re. balance so completely. I agree re. convergence so completely. I agree that synergy, whether brain, culture, learning, complexity…whatever leads to interdependent thought/communication and positive flow in any complex adaptive system.
    Well done.

    • Thanks for the kind words. And all that you mention leads to? Resilience, of course. I truly appreciate the energy you have brought to that topic, Sean. So much of what I’ve learned on it derives directly from your guidance and leadership at #ecosys.

      Hope to see you Sunday night. We’re still hammering out language for our K12 Social Contract :)

      • Yes, Sean is a friend and key stakeholder at #ecosys. Or were you referring to Charles Handy? :)

        Always a risk of attempting to “boil the ocean”. So, for now, let’s keep ‘resilience’ as a fringe benefit of a refined knowledge/learning epistemology. Keeping in mind that we know better.

    • Thanks much, Brian! But it took 6 months of research and way too many napkins taped together to get back on your radar! How are you? And what do you think of the philosophy of complexity (since the science part we know a bit more about)?

  4. I love the graphic. Mind if I use it in my presentation to a Complexity class at Stanford University tomorrow ? I’m a guest lecturer. My talk is titled “Model Free Methods for Bizarre Domains”. To connect my talk to your graphic, the people favoring the ideas on the left (the Reductionist edge, in my parlance, since I don’t really like the left-right brain contrast) could do a lot better in situations involving Complexity (in what I call “Bizarre Domains”) by utilizing a toolkit of “Model Free Methods” (MFM).

    In my talk I discuss how Complexity is much more a problem for Science than it is for People. Humans deal with enormous complexity effortlessly. Consider human languages, for instance; Reductionist Science can’t handle semantics.

    Everything in Reductionist Science is done with Models. In fact, I equate Reductionism with Model Use. And in “Bizarre Domains”, Models cannot be built. Science is stuck. But several disciplines, starting with Geneticists in 1935 and spreading “by accident”, more or less, through the life Sciences, have discovered that progress can be made by using Model Free Methods.

    So my own contribution to this debate is simply observing that Model Free Methods form a group with specific properties of which the most important one is their universal applicability; they can be used in situations where Models and Reductionist Science will fail, typically in situations involving Complexity. This justifies studying MFMs as a group. MFMs are not a silver bullet, but they are at least bullets :-). I have discussed tradeoffs many times. The biggest hurdle to greater adoption is that anyone with a thoroughly Reductionist education is likely to reject – with prejudice – anything that doesn’t use Models.

    In essence, we can now enumerate a set of tools that can be used against situations involving Complexity. Yes, we’ve used several of these tools already; the news is that they have been identified and can be discussed together, which means you can more rapidly find the most suitable one.

    My own research focuses on an algorithm (a MFM) for language understanding called “Artificial Intuition”. It belongs to a group called “Connectome Algorithms”. More about all this at http://syntience.com/links .

  5. I think that what you are talking about has already more or less manifested in the work of Donald Campbell and Mark Bickhard, resulting in evolutionary epistemology and interactivism (which utilizes evolutionary epistemology). These approaches transcend the rationalist/empiricist debate by noting and avoiding the common errors between rationalist and empiricist positions. Both Campbell and Bickhard have thought quite extensively about complexity. Bickhard has a page with a bunch of papers available for download: http://www.lehigh.edu/~mhb0/pubspage.html

    • An outstanding contribution, Phill. I appreciate that you’ve introduced Bickhard and Campbell.

      One paper of theirs in particular on Learning and Development Topology captures many relevant concepts from the overlapping fields of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and expert systems – representation, correspondence, oscillation/modulation, problem/solution sets. It’s a long list of concepts and topics, frankly. Many of them would add value to this discussion.

      As always, the bibliographies themselves are powerful tools. Nice to see Aristotle and Locke cited, and a variety of references to pragmatism. Piaget a prominent voice (missing from my chart).

      Further reading and research ahead.

      More thoughts and takeaways soon. Perhaps you’ll stay with our discussion? Again, many thanks.

  6. “Our right brain is the hub of our pattern matching capability, where we seek new information that arrives in diverse or unfamiliar forms; it’s where we scan the environment, search for clues, and try to relate ourselves to the world around us. Think philosophy. Think ethics. Think culture.”

    Think science. I mean, seriously: If it is essential to this argument that science does NOT seek new information, does NOT scan the environment, and does NOT search for clues, then it’s a massive fail, a complete non-starter. Because science does all those things, and does them better than philosophy or ethics.

    This is not even a new and interesting failure. C P Snow’s “two cultures” argument is decades old and essentially the same. The problem with Snow is that scientists on average are quite cultured. (For example, I’ve seen all of Shakespeare’s plays except Timon Of Athens, performed classical, folk, and electronic music, trained in modern dance, and translated poems from German, Chinese, and medieval Italian. I don’t think I’m exceptional.) So it ends up in reality not being so much “science” versus “culture”, as “culture with science” versus “culture without science”.

    Sure, balanced thinking is useful. I sometimes say that to create, first I need to be like a child at play. Wouldn’t it be cool if X? Imagining endless possibilities , brainstorming, banishing all negative thoughts, surging forward with boundless enthusiasm. I can spew pages of poetry in this mode.

    But that, by itself, produces a lot of garbage along with only a few jewels. So at some point, I have to shut the child in a closet, an open a different closet containing a highly critical persona (imagine him as a skeptical and opinionated professor with a German accent). “Vell,” he says, “dis vord here, you know, just von’t do.” And he gets out a very sharp scalpel and starts cutting, editing, rearranging, throwing out scraps, pruning, honing, polishing. This is painful – there is blood on the floor – but it’s necessary.

    The professor can’t create; he’s too critical and inhibited. The child can’t edit; he has no focus or discipline. You need both.

    Or as I once heard Linus Pauling say, in order to have a lot of good ideas, “First, you need to have a lot of ideas. And then, you need a way to tell the good ones from the bad ones.”

    You can call those right brain and left brain if you want. But to me, it all sounds like science.

    • Thanks, Howard. Much to reflect upon.

      Agree that enriched cultural experiences – like the ones mentioned, literature, music, dance – can make LB practitioners (like scientists) more effective. There’s an expanded base of semantic, metaphorical, and intuitive thinking skills to draw from. And the same cross-over argument goes for RB philosophers – attention to ontology, method, structure and data will go a long way toward building a viable, resilient rational framework, regardless of an intuitive foundation.

      Even in epistemology, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

      My sense of fields in the LB space may be tainted by what I see as a highly risk-averse academic culture, where less risks are taken due to tenure concerns. In such an environment, LB fact finding may become an end in itself. Fact finding is generally ‘safe’. Have large numbers of academic scientists fallen into this mode? I think it’s the situation McGilchrist refers to in the TED talk I linked to in my original post. I certainly don’t want to draw conclusions from stereotypes. But cultural forces that take hold across entire disciplines can be strong, and difficult to counter.

      A story to illustrate –

      One day I was discussing Gardner’s views on Multiple Intelligences, and a debate opened up along the lines of the diagram. Because Gardner’s RB ‘theory’ couldn’t be proven in LB labs (like most other problems in psychology, sociology, etc.) the conclusion was that Gardner was wrong.

      See the dilemma?

      Thanks again for engaging on this. Truly value your input. Hope you will stay engaged – much to be learned in these areas, at least in my mind.

  7. Excellent post with interesting insight. Thanks for making me think! A couple of thoughts…

    – What if the divergence of left/right brain thinking is as much or more an organic phenomenon than a learned one?

    – What if the bridge to what we need is not necessarily more individual complexity, but individual recognition of how everyone’s input/viewpoint can be used to create a better whole. Think puzzle pieces that form the big picture.

    Keep up the great work!

    Jenifer @jenajean

    • Thanks much, Jenifer. I agree there is the organic aspect as a primary focus of study. But somehow, perhaps via cultural adoption, we seem to have learned the bias as well. We seem obsessed with cause and effect, which manifests often as silver bullet thinking.

      And yes, holistic left/right thinking could get us way down the path. But I think the strong cultural bias places a much greater burden on us all, forcing us to make “critical thinking” more intentuonal.

      Appreciate your insights on this. Hoping you’ll stay with our thread.

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  9. interesting thoughts… it makes me wonder about our perceptions and ideologies of what believe right and left brain thinking to be, and as parts of the whole as jennifer suggests, in terms of a marxist dialectic. that perhaps what you are considering in this tension between these two classes of thought may be some form of epistemological synthesis. i have been looking into applications of social theory to establish a framework for consideration of knowledge we classify as news and journalism from a more social scientific approach – particularly as we try to frame the changing paradigm in digital sharing of information that was previously the sole domain of journalists employed by publishers and brodacasters. thanks for sharing.

    • Great insights, David. You’ve captured the thread succinctly.

      And yes, the LB/RB cognitive neuroscience model is just one level of abstraction in play with this assessment. To address the social sciences, we can go back up a level to consider what happens when structured/hierarchical cultural mindset – so deeply embedded in our western institutions – gives way to a more distributed patterned/networked model. Your example is excellent re: the news media space, where a fundamental transformation is taking place enabled by the internet and social media. Journalism is moving from a controlled, hierarchical publication mechanism to a more organic, networked model. The latter suffers from more errors and “noise” but it is also faster and more resilient. I learned about the earthquake in Oklahoma last night on Twitter as it was happening, a full 12-16 hours before I would have known about it otherwise.

      It’s a good example of why I think “critical thinking” is ever more important. We must become increasingly accountable to discern fact from rumor from opinion.

      Glad you mentioned ‘paradigm’ as well. That’s a key aspect of this discussion. Notice Thomas Kuhn on the chart? Much (much) more to come there.

      Again, David, thanks for posting. Hope you’ll stay with us.

  10. Hi, Mr. Jones.
    This kind of special thinking has been theorized decades ago in their research on clinical practice by psychoanalysts.
    It is used on daily bases by psychoanalysts when they work with a pacient.
    So, search no more. A good starting point is Lorenzer A., Argelander H., Humboldt.
    Good luck.

    • Thank you for this insight. I agree, I’ve learned the extent to which PSYCHOLOGY has contributed to this framing.

      I also appreciate the additional sources. I’ll add Lorenzer, Argelander and Humboldt to my list, for further examination. Phill (several posts back) added Campbell and Bickhard to this list as well, with some excellent paper references, one of which on the Topology of Learning/Development I read at first sitting. All 50 pages. I can be a bit of a sponge when it comes to this space.

      To close the psychology aggregation, I’ll re-link the excellent TED talk by psychologist Iain McGilchrist. He explains the LB/RB model with considerably more depth and rigor than I could.

  11. AGGREGATION POST. So many great ideas are flowing in. Trouble is, they are here, on Twitter, and now even on other blogs and Google+. I’ll do be my best to try to aggregate the feedback back here, so we can track the key threads.

    Here’s an especially interesting blog post written yesterday by Carsten Hucho in Berlin on “Left Brain/Right Brain” – from the perspective of a practicing scientist with deep RB sensibilities. I responded there with my thoughts, but some of our takeaways were:

    • power of primal wonder/curiosity for all of us – LB/RB alike
    • tendency for LB archetype to become cultural stereotype
    • overaching frame for this discussion is “critical thinking” that can better drive understanding of similarities and differences in our cognitive models
    • ultimate need for LB/RB interdependence

    Seems the point about cognitive interdependence (made and stressed in the RSA TED video by Iain McGilchrist, linked above) has legs.

    Do you guys agree, or no?

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  13. Wow! Chris, Truly a work of art. Like the video we did for Strategy Leadership & the Soul – I appreciate how much intention and years of questions resulted in this beautiful post where the comments are as nourishing as your initial intent. It almost seems cruel to offer an addition knowing how much you have invested. I only offer the following as a means to continue to honor & acknowledge giants whose shoulders I’ve been lucky enough to stand upon. It has been so long since my days deep in philosophy. I did my senior thesis tracking education through Rousseau (education via mentor) Wordsworth (education via nature) and Schiller (education via truth/beauty). I then dove deep into existential philosophy w/ Sartre & Kierkegaard. Individualism needs to be here. And let’s not leave out Maslow, Campbell & Jung. And only because I don’t see any women here, I hope at the end of my life I can make a worthy enough contribution. In that vein I must honor and acknowledge Ayn Rand for her voice. I don’t agree with all that she had to say but I honor her strength, clarity & conviction. Decide means to choose. We kill all other possibility by selection. All of the people listed by you and by your contributors are known simply because they were more afraid of insignificance than they were of truth. Cheers to your contribution to #edu #ecosys.

    • Yes, years of questioning, Jenn, but what I see as my better questions are only now coming into focus. Guess it takes a fair amount of living to learn how to frame them.

      The list of additional philosophers is growing long –

      To your point, to decide (from the latin decidere: to cut off) is exactly the dilemma I faced in doing this. So many other contributors and influencers. Where do we stop? Whom do we leave out? I guess I’m clinging to the notion that certain great thinkers (scientists and philosophers alike) produced unique concepts and/or discrete frameworks for knowledge, approaches to framing human thought that has survived many centuries intact.

      So far, among missing influencers raised most often would be John Locke and Charles Sanders Peirce. I’m mulling some adjustments to the diagram.

      Thanks so much for the warm words of encouragement. Support like yours helps me stay at this!

  14. Great post, Chris.
    I have been mulling over it for some time now, without being able to point out what bothers me.

    My big interrogation here might be expressed as follow: are knowledge frameworks emerging from one of the underlying biases, thus opposing left and right brain, or do they emerge from constant connections and oppositions between both, due to many societal factors (education, economy, technology)?

    I am tempted to believe the latter. Descartes’ framework, for example, was deeply tainted by causality.
    Seing complexity as a nascent field of convergence sets up a promise I strongly believe in, but facts do not always follow promises. I recently had email exchanges with a young French Cellular biologist who explained me that most academics still follow the causality path, and tend to explain phenomenas via linear thinking.

    Furthermore, the left brain is often challenged when existing frameworks reach their limits, and historically, qualitative chasms were often got over by resorting to “the other side of the equation”.

    I stumbled yesterday upon this Heisenberg’s quote:
    “Science no longer is in the position of observer of nature, but rather recognizes itself as part of the interplay between man and nature. The scientific method … changes and transforms its object: the procedure can no longer keep its distance from the object.

    Sorry for this wandering comment. I am still trying to gather my thoughts upon yours…

    All the best,

    • Excellent feedback, Thierry. Any wandering you may be doing is what I call “exploring at the edges” –

      That’s where there is so much to he discovered!

      Certain aspects of the diagram bother me as well. I’ve had enough positive feedback to believe the illustration has directional merit. But I have probably have failed to qualify the implications fully, or to title it correctly.

      That said, your examples provide excellent validation on:

      – bias for academics to think causally or in a linear fashion
      – Heisenberg on scientific uncertainty

      An extension of this that I’ll expand in later posts:

      – Kuhn on ‘paradigm blindness’ and struggles to ‘get outside the box’

      I’m with you on what I think has emerged from psychology that reason and understanding emerges from the interaction of both sides of the brain, in a back and forth or “oscillating” mode. The “common ground” I propose then would not be another “new”domain or a blend of the two, but rather, a complex reality (not a set of models) that is in fact the object of focus. The two major epistemological families (empirical/causal science vs. intuitive/rational philosophy) attempt to describe the same real world. So it’s essentially two views of the same thing. One view directed predominantly by LB modes of thought, the other mostly by RB modes.

      Causal Models >> COMPLEX REALITY << Rational Models

      One of the dangers from this sort of analysis is that conclusions are drawn that were not intended. I think we’re in agreement – it's not about picking one side as being better than the other, putting people in "buckets", or denying one set of thinkers from the cognitive benefits of the other side. The "all or nothing" thinking continues to hamper the dialog.

      To me its about identifying patterns – looking for trends and relationships that might produce new insight.

      Both modes of thought are essential, and retain value.

      But perhaps my major conclusion: both modes will help us better understand the nuances of complexity, not just the scientific aspect. Causality doesn’t fare well in the complexity space. Can less discrete methods come to our rescue?

      There we go, exploring edges again –

      Again, I truly appreciate the questions and observations. Hope you’ll stay with us on this, much still ahead !!


      • You bet I will :)
        (strange that “Notify me of follow-up comments” didn’t work)

        Identifying patterns…
        Yes and yes, in a deep way. We should stop considering complexity as an emergent phenomenon of reality, but as reality itself, e.g. do we need frameworks for complexity, or rather frameworks for the way we approach it? Complexity is a systemic state which we can only approach from inside, that is the main lesson to be learnt from Heisenberg and from people like Jean Fourastié (in “Notes sur la philosophie des sciences”, among others).

        In that sense, what we need is epistemological frameworks for pattern matching, sense making,…
        Pattern matching benefits from a LB-RB convergence. Big data needs scientific methods for meaningful extraction of data (should I say curation?), but data itself is nothing without intuition and insights.
        Back to questions again: how could we formalize the intellectual mechanisms associated with pattern matching? This would have important implications in education. Is experiential learning, in the sense it is implemented in artistic courses, a method which could be generalized to matters which more deeply involve LB? At which point do LB and RB processes connect?


      • Outstanding, Thierry. I agree fully – yes, yes. And yes! So many areas of common ground taking shape.

        1. Epistemologies for pattern matching and sense making as we look into frameworks for approaching complexity.
        2. Further investigating LB-RB harmonization and convergence as sketched out in this post.
        3. Implications for Education. I have a bit more to share on this last one already, which you may have missed at the foot of the original post. There’s a group of educators and parents meeting each Sunday night (U.S.) to discuss, among other topics, precisely the points you raise – hands-on, authentic, experiential, project-based learning – not just in art class, but throughout the curriculum. The time zone is unfortunate, but our #EcoSys challenges wiki is intended to capture insights and takeaways. So you know, this chat is founded on ideas of human/social “complex adaptive systems” in action, and we’re working from a prototype discovery methodology we crafted in 2009.

        So, much to discuss –

        All of the above are themes I’ve been touching on and circling in this post, and throughout the blog. As I read back through the comments, I think we’re gaining traction on the topics you’re helping to frame here.

        So excited that this topic space resonates with you, Thierry. The spark has ignited the tinder, and we’re adding a few sticks, just so – before we throw on bigger logs. But rest assured: some well-aged timber on the way –

        Soon up – more on Kant, and Kuhn (who most certainly drew from Heisenberg).

        Thanks again for the ongoing contributions. I’ll check on the notify issue.


  15. Chris, great post you’ve written here. The thing I would like to add is that when you place philosophy on the right, then the left part is not only science. I would place philosophy in the center as it represents our ability to think (both left and right), and science as one of the many satellites around philosophy.

    Science is timely, philosophy is timeless. What’s true now in science can be false tomorrow. That’s a fact. In philosophy there is no true or false. What’s true in situation A, can be false in situation B. Differences in culture, beliefs, age, etc. defines what’s true or not in philosophy, and in general this diversity in thinking is considered a richness for many of us. It enables us to change perspective and rethink theories or ‘facts’ that can lead to other conclusions. In many cases it can even change the current state of science (think radical, for example the concepts of time or gravity). So science benefits from philosophy, like many fields of interest benefits from philosophy. Without philosophy, science would not progress. So therefore I would argue that science, like many other fields is a dependent of philosophy.

    Of course, you can agree or disagree with my thinking. You can say that it’s just some philosophizing from my side on a sunny Sunday afternoon…..


    • Great to hear from you Bas, it’s been too long.

      It’s Sunday a.m. here in the States, and a bit cloudy. But the coffee is on and as always, you’ve got me thinking.

      I can’t argue the point that Philosophy casts a wider net, and I’d agree Philosophy has broader aspirations than does Science, which, by it’s reductive nature is constrained by it’s taxonomies, periodic tables, methods, and perhaps even “discovering the causes of things”.

      But I’m not sure that makes it a subset.

      As we’ve often found in our respective posts over the years, semantics enters in. Having done the research now, we owe much to Wittgenstein on this topic. Get the semantics wrong, and we have no chance for a meaningful conversation. Depending on how we define the two fields of thought and importantly, how we set the context that we wish to consider them, we will produce a different outcome. A small plug for setting initial conditions, perhaps? :)

      In any case, my thread with Thierry DeBaillon above resulted in a simple diagram that I think could solve the epistemological debate, namely:

      SCIENCE >> Real-world (w/Complexity) << PHILOSOPHY

      The takeaway for me here is that the two macro-level fields of thinking (one left-brain directed, the other, right-brain) are two different ways to look at the same reality.

      I firmly believe one is not better than the other. We need both.

      If I had to pick unifying, over-arching elements that tied all this together I think we'd want to look at language (tactically) and perhaps math (strategically) to begin to tackle the broader agenda of developing an all-encompassing epistemology.

      In fact, we already borrow from math today, when we talk about knowledge domains, problem topologies, and a solution space. I've been thinking we might want to leverage the language of math. As Clay Christensen says, the solution language is important. Lakoff would encourage us to find some useful metahors. We'll need a fertile ground for developing a new semantics for complexity.

      Am I making any sense? Looking forward to your thoughts.

      • Hi Chris, thanks for your response. And of course you’re making sense. I like your thinking on taking the science and philosophy perspective. Maybe you already mentioned the key element here: language. Language is complex by nature because of its ambiguousness.

        As the real world is only true as we perceive the world, and we have agreed on how we perceive and then interprete it, language is key. We use language to simplify the world, and we can both agree on something because we agree on the language, but perhaps we completely disagree without knowing it; we have different meanings attached to the shared language.

        Do we have (or need) other instruments than language? Are there other means to articulate ourselves and know that we understand each other? The ambiguousness of language is actually a blessing. It enables us to interprete things differently (intentionally or not) and come with different points of view because of that.

        Same quetion to you: am I making any sense here? :)

  16. Pingback: The importance of philosophy « Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

  17. I have been thinking further about “final cause” aka teleological factors, in response to a series of tweets by Kevin V (@mediasres). In doing some digging, a key insight jumped out at me. Quoting Monte Ransome Johnson (I hope accurately) in Aristotle on Teleology (2005):

    In modern science teleological explanations tend to be deliberately avoided since the Novum Organum of Francis Bacon, because whether they are true or false is argued to be beyond the ability of human perception and understanding to judge.

    Perhaps this is one of the most fundamental inflection points in our “divergence” model. Does this ring true?

    Are there others? Darwinian evolutionary theory comes to mind.

  18. I can only imagine who would be leading these conversations today, if social media had really been in full swing in 1999 when this hit the front cover of the business section of the Wall Street Journal http://www.shkaminski.com/Classes/MNGT5590/Petzinger%20WSJ.htm

    I remember the day I saw it, and what a rush it was to see it in the WSJ, because I was already studying the topic. It made it seem like it was finally ‘mainstream’ to me. And here we are over a decade later…

    • This article is a great connection, Paula. The article by Thomas Petzinger in the WSJ truly DOES capture much of this thinking. Sadly, we have yet to change our culture or our paradigms so that we might adapt into the more organic space of the 21st century.

      That work lies ahead, but, perhaps, we will start to address it in the near term. Enjoyed connecting again.

      Let’s change some paradigms!

  19. Pingback: Science, philosophy and complexity | Mind the Post

  20. Hmm, I wonder why Van Loon and Whitehead arent mentioned…is it because theyre unrecognised by either community or just not as known? They fill the divide and each present unique but still very wholistic approaches to our knowledge of thought.

  21. Hi Chris
    Great post!
    I might suggest – add Popper, so he emerges from Darwin, and also so Popper links back to Kuhn (and thus back to William James, given the seeds of evolutionary epistemology in James)

    Also, I would consider adding Laszlo (1972) as a systems unifier.
    (ie perhaps bridging both evolutionary `species’ of thought)
    ie: http://storyality.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/storyality-70c-systems-philosophy-laszlo/

    But anyway, fantastic graphic – and concept – and thinking… hats off!


    • Joe,

      First, I must apologize for the unforgivable delay in my response. When you replied, I was on the verge of getting married, and I am very glad to report year one has been a success :)

      • Popper came up often in my study of Kuhn. Because Kuhn resonated so strongly for me, his battles with Popper certainly created a subconscious lack of interest in Popper’s ideas. I shall revisit.
      • Huge fan of Williams James. As the father of modern Psychology, reading his 1890 work is on my bucket list ..
      • I was not familiar with Laszlo, but I’ve been hungry for modern day focus in this area. I shall pursue your link.

      Since researching & writing this in 2011, 3 things have happened (in addition to my vows!):

      • I got 8-10 inputs to improve the chart
      • I’ve read Zen/Motorcycles, and much of Kant’s 1st Critique
      • I’ve joined @stackphilosophy aka #philosophy #stackexchange

      I have committed to staying with the focus here, and expanding upon it. I am fascinated more than ever with knowledge frameworks, regardless of (and perhaps emboldened by) their vintage.

      A common element surviving the centuries? “Synthesis”.

      Thanks again for your interest Joe, and the kind words. They inspired me to come back to this post. Your email has been in my inbox for 15 months. Aging like a fine wine?

      More soon.

      Chris aka @sourcepov

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