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All posts for the month November, 2003

(Broad-band internet link from Aotou, China enables this post !) Finished Barfield’s History in English Words and started Rorty’s Contingency, Irony and Solidarity on the flight.

Barfield uses etymology of English words to paint a picture of the history of thought through language, not just through the stems and origins of the individual words, but most importatly through their evolving useage and semantics. (See the Aryans post below) He comes down very heavily on the side of the poets who’ve contributed the most – Shakespeare, Coleridge and Wordsworth in particular, and the Oxford English Dictionary as the best source there is (1953). How does one get access to the full OED, rather than all the various “concise” forms ?

As for Wordsworth he quotes the lines from Tables Turned …. Our meddling intellect, rhyming with, We murder to dissect. Apart from re-inforcing the death of / through logic angle – I couln’t help hearing “analysis paralysis” in murder to dissect.

Rorty – this is the first I’ve read since struggling with his Mirror of Nature, apart from his autobiographical essay Wild Orchids and Trotsky – Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. Apart from the preface and intro, I’ve read only the “Contingency of Language” chapter so far. Absolutely brilliant – natural follow on from Barfield. He very much supports the line that if its human nature you’re interested in it’s a work of fiction you should be reading, prose or poetry. Apart from the usual Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel, Kirkegaard, Heidegger, Dewey, James, etc, he relies strongly on Donald Davidson here. [Quote] Davidson breaks with the notion of language as a medium , and not for either representation or expression.[Unquote] Very much the same as Lakoff’s conduit metaphor rant, and evocative of McLuhan.

Also, of more than passing day-job interest [Quote] … the term intrinsic is one which it would pay us not to use, one which has caused more trouble than it has been worth.[Unquote] Tell me about it.

I’ve tried to keep Psybertron away from global politics subjects, despite noting the subconscious kick in the pants 9/11 gave to its motivation (see footnote on every page), mainly I guess not to overstate any impression of self-importance and to keep in perspective of what I might aim to achieve in my world of business, rather than the world.

If the professional philosophers out there will overlook my mis-use of the word paradox yet again, and permit me to draw attention to another awful irony in the War Against Terrorism – We really must recognise and address the Catch-22 in which we find ourselves (see the manifesto in my header on every page, and remove the word business if it helps).

Many commentators yesterday and today (including good old BBC Radio 4 Today) reporting with outrage the 100,000 protesting in London against the Bush / Blair policies (and actions ?) the same day as 27 die in a terrorist attack against Brirish targets in Istanbul.

“They’re protesting against the wrong thing, etc ….” Well, perhaps not so,
They are warring wrongly against this thing.
With me so far ? No I thought not.

Remember any one of my many dozen re-statements of the Catch-22 (Northrop this time) [Quote] The basic paradox of our time [is that]

“sound” theory tends to destroy the state of affairs it aims to achieve

[Unquote] (His 1944 scare quotes, not mine). When will the world wake-up ? 1944 ? Well I could find you quotes from 3500 years ago if you’d prefer, this “problem” is as old as the hills metaphorically if not literally – as old as historical time. Catch-22 is the paradox of all time. Older than the post-Socratic blind-turn. It was ever thus.

We could look at the choice of Istanbul – ancient Constantinople – the historical cross-roads of East-West civilisation (and conflict). We could speculate at the irony - the coincidence or synchronicity, or perhaps the pre-meditated point in the heads of the terrorist. Whichever of these extreme cock-up or conspiracy views you prefer, it’s hard to ignore the significance.

Anyway back to the immediate – the palace security breaches – whilst London is at a state of maximum security for the visit of Dubya ? The (do-gooder, woolly, week-minded, liberal, but inescapable) point is that the way to fight against terrorism is not with security, backed by super-power might alone. It’s a battle for hearts and minds too. The causes of terrorism. It always was and it always will be.

Is it the direct – actions speak louder than words,
or is it the ironic – sticks and stones … ?

And I say this not with some high-minded aims, but with simple personal motivation – everyone today is speculating about the next British / London target – I’m flying BA through Heathrow tomorrow, thank you.

You’ve got my point now, right, anyone, anyone who matters, Bush, Blair, anyone ?

To finish, a couple of personal ironies (I could do hundreds, but I wouldn’t want you to think I was some kind of mystic)

Also on Today this morning, Peter Gabriel being grilled over his efforts to create a live 7-piece band performance as a contribution to the BBC’s Children-in-Need charity night, and the suggestion he’s just a cynical old rocker looking to get his face back on the telly. To his credit, whilst being affronted at the suggestion, he actually said “well of course there may be some of that, but …”. Anyway my irony is (see that footnote again, that’s at the bottom of the page peeps) that it was Peter Gabriel’s words that came to mind when I saw those images of 9/11 and cried.

Also, on the doormat this morning, an invitation from my alma mater business school, to a celebration of entrepreneurship, featuring the upcoming success of a winning brand of Vodka called ….. Kalashnikov.

Don’t ask me to spell that one out please.

Have Aryan’s been air-brushed from history ?
(Apparently the term is no longer PC – Indo-European is preferred – but was this just a region containing a group of peoples, or a people consiting of a common culture and language ? – a key point blurred by the PC term – thanks to LanguageHat.)

I’m reading Barfield’s History in English Words, (as recommended, but following up a strong pre-existing etymological interest), and finding it fascinating, and suprisingly packed with gags (more on which later). This edition was published in 1953, though Barfield had it first published in 1925 (thanks Danny Smitherman), before Hitler’s Nazism gave the Aryan race a bad name, and Barfield feels the need to apologise for any lack of political correctness in referring to the Aryan “race” as a major source of Indo-European Language.

Barfield is meticulous in detail, and traces words not just back to basic Greek or Latin stems, or Old English forms, but notes their evolutionary webs and points of creation / speciation from original Aryan inhabitants of central Europe through all the various ripples and reversals of migration, trade and invasion, and the different era’s of all the different civilisations along the way. As I say fascinating, but when I look at the Oxford Reference Online’s Concise Dictionary of Etymology, to corroborate one or two of Barfield’s claims, I can find no reference to Aryan at all. Not only that, the Oxford Etymology is surprsingly one-dimensional in it’s sources.

I suspect much of Barfields stuff, whilst stated declaratively, is actually highly speculative – Sherlock Holmes style – and probably “unproven” to more scientific etymologists, but I find it incredible to find no reference to Aryan.

I know who I would believe to be the speaker of truth – but how can that be ?

Strange because I checked Frederick Bodmer (ed Hogben) The Loom of Language (1944) and find this also refers to the Aryan origins of the well-defined family of Indo-European languages (p189). [This is the 1945 3rd Impression by George Allen and Unwin, optimistically published as part of the series “Primers for the Age of Plenty”, a book purchased by my father for 15/- (75p) in 1946 in Bombay. Amongst other things it contains a marvellous database or “Language Museum” which I really must compare with Barfield.]

Language Hat – Interesting linguistic site blogged here by the Apothecary.

In view of the Owen Barfield posts below, and coming next, you’ll understand why this post on an (sic) obscure word struck a chord too. If we only ever read writers who only ever used words we already knew in contexts we already knew, everything would be extremely boring and sterile – and, more’s the point, knowledge would never advance. Interesting given Barfield’s point extolling Archaism, that this particular complaint is about William Gibson using a word from common currency in the early 19th century.

There’s is a valid point here actually about education and learning of the individual, not being left behind some elite snobbery at the level of advancement of human knowledge. The point would be all the more poignant if the particular word “Luddite” was reasonably obscure anyway, but even now I find a dictionary-rate tolerance myself. I’m reasonable educated, intelligent and I’m deliberately reading a great deal at present with learning in mind, but even I have a threshhold for how many words I need either to look-up or battle through in ignorance, before deciding a book is too much effort. No gain without pain, but you can have too much pain for too little gain, unless you’re a masochist. Give the girl a chance (eek – on second thoughts this is not some teenager, she’s actually a published sci-fi author herself in a spat with Gibson – and describes Neuromancer as a “yawner”.)

Which reminds me I still haven’t read Gibson yet, so I’d better be careful what I say.

The Cynefin Centre – Also via Ton, who reports on the KM Europe Conference where Dave Snowden of IBM’s Cynefin Centre for Organisational Complexity spoke – creating a new, emergent simplicity for the on-demand-era, working in un-ordered systems known as contextual complexity provides both pragmatic and conceptual capability for the people aspects of the on-demand age, in which we no longer need to sacrifice effectiveness on the altar of efficiency. All a bit IBM consultant speak, but actually touching on a key issue.

Good phrase – no longer need to sacrifice effectiveness on the altar of efficiency.
It’s not all a numbers and scientific logic game. Efficiency may appear objective and easy to measure, but effectiveness is about real quality in its widest sense.

Now where did I read that quote about putting arty types in charge of science ?

Seem’s Ton is onto a rich seam here – he also blogged about Dave Weinberger’s Small Pieces, Loosley Joined, from which I also picked up the marvellous expression … Undoing some of our deepest misunderstandings in a world of pure connection. World of pure connection = On-demand era perhaps ?

Ton quotes Rorty on Catch-22Ton Zijlstra‘s post “Wrong Vocabulary” includes a quote from Rorty, which is another good statement of my Catch-22 [Quote] It reminds me of American pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty who stated that it is not possible to argue the pragmatist case with the vocabulary of Platonian dichotomies, the very thing it aims to replace. The Platonian vocabulary simply is not fitted out for this. [Unquote]

Paraphrase
Rational logic is not (entirely) useful when dealing with humans,
and is particularly useless when trying to explain or justify why.

In fact Ton’s post precedes the Rorty quote with a conversation prompted by Verna Allee about social change [Quote] … change is not something you can plan, or can set goals in and then work towards them …. being able to gain understanding of social issues and conventions in an organisation may well be the first step in working towards (evolutionary) change …. the combination of design and social change implicitly contains the wish to make social change a controlleable process …. there is no such control, nor is it needed …. we can work towards change, but we’ll never be sure of the outcome. [Unquote] reminds me not only of my MBA thesis on the subject of organisational cultural change, but also that quote from Northrop [Quote] the basic paradox of our time [is that] “sound” theory tends to destroy the state of affairs it aims to achieve [Unquote] (His scare quotes, not mine). As good a statement of the Catch-22 as any I’ve heard.

Verna Allee takes much the same line as myself about not wasting time with traditional logical arguments [Quote] Winning the uphill battle [against command and control management mentality] would merely amount to showing how the ‘new’ fits in with the ‘old’. The thing is: it doesn’t, and it doesn’t have to either. [Unquote] This is very Tom Peters too, as in Ready, Fire, Aim.

Just read Barfield’s Poetic Diction, originally published in 1928, when he was 30. This Weslyan University Press edition has a 1973 Foreword by Howard Nemerov, as well as an original 1928 Preface, and 1952 Preface and a 1972 Afterword all by Barfield.

I can see why people recommended I look at Barfield after Pirsig, Northrop and Lakoff. One particular angle of my own thesis is strongly re-inforced. Knowledge is about evolutionary psychology (spooky to pick up the Pinker link below at this precise moment). This is evident in etymology and in figures of speech of all kinds. Metaphor one way or another is the main component of this development of knowledge and meaning. Some extracts that resonated …

Evoking Maitland, he says [Quote p29] If law is the point where life and logic meet, perception is the point where life and imagination meet. [Uquote]

Paralleling the Maslow / Pirsig ideas of layers of value, he refers to the idea that vestigial layers have “hygiene” value in supporting higher layers once their own function is fulfilled. [Quote p30] … the historical function of logical method has not been to add to the sum of knowledge. It has been to engender subjectivity – self-consciousness. Once this has been achieved …. there is no more that logic can do …. its surviving function is to prevent relapse. [Unquote]

Evoking Pirsig and Northrop, [Quote p61] The cause of [the disproportionately small historical interest in the connection between language and thought] is to be found in the fact that western philosophy from Aristotle onwards is itself a kind of offspring of logic.[Uquote]

Accepting for a moment that the subject is poetry (or poesis), where good = “pleasing” = aesthetic quality, it is interesting to note the recurring references to dynamism being the key. He uses the electrical dynamo analogy from the outset – no motion no potential output – to back-up the idea that poesis relies on novelty, juxtaposition, creativity, synthesis of new meaning, often by metaphorical means. Interesting to note that even “archaism” – going backwards etymologically, invoking lost words or lost meanings of current words, is equally creative. Right in the final concluding paragraphs, Movement. is the single word sentence that jumps off the page. Poetry, said Coleridge, is the best words in the best order, in other words, best language – ie Highest Quality.

On the active / passive, transitive / intransitive theme. [Quote p55/57] This ability to recognise significant resemblances and analogies, considered as in action, I shall call knowledge; considered as a state … I shall call it wisdom. …. With this expansion (knowledge) may remain something of a peramanent possession (wisdom), my aesthetic pleasure will still …. only accompany the actual moment of expansion [of consciousness] [Unquote]

[Quote p63] One of the first things even an amateur student discovers is that every modern language is apparently nothing but a tissue of petrified metaphors. [Unquote]

[Quote p132] Process is the making of meaning …. There is really no end to the secrets hidden behind single words …. Meaning itself can never be conveyed from one person to another – words are not bottles [See Lakoff’s rant on the conduit metaphor] [A book on the subject of meaning which discounts metaphor as non-scientific] is somehow horribly tragic … indeed the book is a ghastly tissue of empty abstractions. [Unquote]

Fritjof Capra – Tao of Physics (1975)
Fritjof Capra – Turning Point (1982)
Malcolm Gladwell – Tipping Point (2000 / 2002)
Michael Talbot – Holographic Universe (1990 / 1992)
Michael Talbot – Mysticism and the New Physics (Written 1975 / 1981 / 1993 Read already)
Fritjof Capra – Web of Life (1996)
Fritjof Capra – Hidden Connections (2002)
(Plus systems theory stuff – Lazlo, von Bertalanffy, etc.)

Another little synchronicity the other day. When I mentioned to someone in the Pickerell (by Magdelene in Cambridge) that Barfield was on the reading list after Northrop, they knew of the C.S.Lewis / Inklings connection I blogged earlier. I knew of the Oxford 1917 to 1924 connection when Lewis (at University College Oxford) met Barfield (Wadham College Oxford), and C.S.Lewis was subsequently Fellow of Magdelen College Oxford and English Tutor there from 1925 to 1954, following which he took up the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdelene College Cambridge and regularly occupied the sofa in the corner of the Pickerell in, until his death in 1963. Anyway, back to Barfield, before I digress too far- C.S.Lewis, J.R.R.Tolkien and G.K.Chesterton lead off into strongly theistic directions very quickly.

Rough Barfield timeline.
Born 1898 and raised Muswell Hill, 6 Grosvenor Gardens.
Attended Highgate School.
At 20 (1918) joined The Royal Engineers during WW1
At 21 (1919) went (back) to Oxford, Wadham College (Met C.S.Lewis, joins the Inklings)
At 22 workig as Assistant Editor on London Weekly Newspaper
Starts to get works published / interested in Anthroposophy.
At 36 achieves B.Litt Oxon, and becomes partner in his fathers law firm.
Practising lawyer 1931 to 1959
Baptized 1948.
1964/5 Drew University. Madison, New Jersey.
Visiting professorships at various US Universities.
Moves to live in Orchard View, Kent during 1986
From 1986 until his death aged 99 on December 14th 1997, lived ay The Wallhatch, Forest Row, East Sussex.

I’m that close to finishing Northrop – 20 pages maybe (Post note – Completed Northrop BTW) – so I’ve got some more reading material lined-up, already despatched from Amazon.

Richard Rorty – Philosophy and Social Hope
Richard Rorty – Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
Owen Barfield – Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning
Owen Barfield – History in English Words

Interestingly it’s taken me since late July to complete Northrop – though I did fit in George Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By and most of Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, and a re-read of Michael Talbot’s Mysticism and the New Physics along the way. Can’t think what to say about Northrop yet, except it was worth the difficult read. Pretty much a complete history of politics, law, religion, empire, invasion and philosophy of the whole world ever in one long book, with some very tricky whole-paragraph-long sentences. Bad news is that because it was an old fragile copy of thebook, I didn’t dare annotate it like I do with all my modern paperback editions – so I’, going to have to read it again to dig out the key references. Well worth it though – what was I saying “Nothing New Under the Sun”……..

Do You Skype ?Skype – From those whacky people that brought you peer to peer file-sharing via Kazaa in the wake of Napster, a peer-to-peer, free, international, internet, voice and text, PC phone service – dead simple and it works – remarkably well, no-delay and crystal clear. Noticed cropping up on several blogger pages, then noticed Stuart Henshall had a link to his own experimental Bloggers on Skype page, to create a community of bloggers connected by Skype. Like anything peer-to-peer it’s going to need a critical mass of subscribers to be effective – but it’s free while stocks last.

Added the links to my side-bar. Let’s see if this takes off. What have you got to lose ?

Picked up Jack Vinson’s blog [Knowledge Jolt with Jack] from a backtrack link. Some interesting knowledge management stuff with common chemical engineering heritage. Great set of links in his blogroll, beyond the usual KM’ers, including for example …

Hal Macomber’s blog [Reforming Project Management] has this Insead paper on Uncertainty and Chaos on Project Management.

Introducing New Ideas Into Organisations – Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising at Uni of North Carolina [via Spike Hall] have a paper (draft of a book) that intrigues me. Partly this is because introducing change into organisations was the subject of a dissertation I wrote ealier, and partly because I am in the middle of a long process to introduce a novel idea into an organisation.

The clincher was seeing the problem of blurring the distinction between the idea and the means of its introduction. Particularly severe in the case above because the idea is about “patterns” as means of introducing – well – ideas ! Stangely this recognition of McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” even turned up in the day job recently.