Systems thinking, systems that learn, and learning in systems

As I’m preparing for #4 of 4 lectures at OCADU – covering the “how” (or techne), I’m having to refer back to a rather complete blog post at .

This covers a lot of ground. The Bateson content, people may have seen before. The situated learning / communities of practice content from Lave and Wenger may be new.

I’m see situated learning as an alternative to the “change in three steps” approach based on Lewin’s field theory, underpinning most approaches to change management.

The slides should be up soon. There won’t be enough time in the class to cover the content well, so perhaps the blog post should be a pre-reading for a future Systems Thinking Ontario (slow) session.


Vis a vis our call yesterday you mentioned that you were more into “phenomenology” than “epistemology”. Is it due to the influence of Heidegger and Dreyfus? I think it was academically launched by Edmund Husserl at Munich in his Logical Investigations? I’m not familiar with any of these guys at all, so I may have to research them or listen to Dreyfuss’ videos this month…

@nizken The lecture on How do Systems Changes become natural practice? explores the shift in philosophy that comes in appreciating practices in their social context.

Let me explain the practical path on which I arrived in phenomenology. When my colleague Ian Simmonds (at IBM Research) and I (circa 1998-2000) were collaborating, the questions were very much around communities of practice, and computer-support cooperative work (CSCW). This led into the research by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave, while they were at the Institute for Research on Learning (a sister of Xerox PARC). This also then ties into the leadershiip of John Seely Brown.

Much of this research was developed by anthropologists. Anthropologists tend to be less interested in epistemology (as knowing), and more in social theory (as the philosophy underlying sociology, leading into social theories of learning).

In order to understand the work of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, Ian and I climbed the steep learning curve associated with Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu loved the work of Martin Heidegger, so that became a foundation. However, since Bourdieu and Heidegger come from a period pre-Internet (and practically, pre-personal-computing) times, there are gaps in interpreting their work for contemporary times.

This led to looking into Hubert Dreyfus, the Heidegger scholar at Berkeley. There’s a joke that Berkeley students don’t really study Heidegger, which is written in German, but instead Dregdegger because it’s Dreyfus channelling Heidegger. More importantly, there’s a large body of work on Hubert Dreyfus’s views on artificial intelligence, that is way beyond Bourdieu and Heidegger.

If you listen to the Philosophy 185 Heidegger lectures from Fall 2007 at U.C. Berkeley, you might catch some discussion about the splits from Husserl into Heidegger. This would be going in depth-first … and since you can see the entire network of philosophers involved, my inclination is to breadth-first.

It it makes you feel any better, I probably embarked on this path starting in 1999, and may not have gotten comfortable with phenomenology until maybe 2004-2005. It helps that I had a practical reason for working across multiple philosophies, that have led me towards the multiparadigm inquiry (specifically multiparadigm interplay, since my style isn’t to insist on a single approach, but work across multiple).

Thank you for the links and reference to Pierre Bourdieu…I have only seen the wikipedia page on Pierre Bourdieu yet.

However, Martin Heidegger and his links to Nazism and anti-Semitic views of that time scares me off a little bit. I have heard that Heidegger was the person responsible for growth of Nazism and National Socialism and seen this article about the controversy surrounding this issue here:

Are you still happy with Pierre Bourdieu’s work and Hubert Dreyfus from UC-Berkeley?

@nizken There’s dangers in reading Wikipedia, rather than being scholarly. I will point to the last sentence in the second paragraph that describes “a personal error … this is irrelevant to his philosophy”.

Hubert Dreyfus isn’t so politicized. Pierre Bourdieu could be framed as going the other direction, with his work on Distinction.

A political approach to philosophy would be to try to read Hubert Dreyfus without reading Heidegger … but then, Dreyfus was well-known as a leading Heidegger scholar, and many thousands of students at Berkeley took his Philosophy 185 course.

A scholarly approach would recognize that Pierre Bourdieu wrote “The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger” in 1991, and I don’t know that he cites Dreyfus.

Since I claim to NOT be a philosopher – I’m more in the Churchman camp of applied philosophy – even I have practical limits on the scope of my research.

Recentering the question as to phenomology, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy places the study in a larger historical context. Politics aside, Heidegger was a scholar who is placed in time between Husserl and Sartre.

I’m not into philosophy or reading the “famous philosophers” either…I’m just aware of the main ones from internet articles and wikipedia/reddit forums only. In fact, I find most European philosophy just abstract battles in the clouds (as Aristophanes described Socrates in his comedy “The Clouds”) I found most German and British philosophers a bit too metaphysical and Judeo-Christian in fact (just like Kant or Hegel)

I’m more interested in action and how to act positively and at the right time and to make the right changes (which is why ethics and politics came into the picture). Anyway I find men like Pierre Bourdieu and West Churchman fascinating in this respect.

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