New Sciences: My Personal Perspective
by Prasad Kaipa
''Once I finish the analysis of these crystals, I have to correlate all my results and begin working on my doctoral dissertation. I don't think I will be here for more than six months,'' I said confidently to my colleague as I casually opened the oven door. ''You see, these crystals...'' I never could finish my sentence because there were no crystals in the oven. They were all melted. My future plans just melted along with them.
My new friend noticed that I was in shock. He tried to find out what happened but I could not speak. I was rapidly going through mental checks regarding my experiment. Was the temperature set correctly? was the thermostat on? Did I remember to keep the crystals last night? The answer to all those questions was yes. Except, somehow, there was a surge in temperature and all my precious crystals, that took 9 months to grow (single crystalline solids are manually grown with approapriate starting material for experimental purposes) and that were experimented with for one more year are all melted and my dissertation is at stake.
That was in 1979 and it took two more years for me to finish my doctoral work and come to USA on a research associateship. That freak accident also changed my future in more ways than one. While I was growing new crystals for my experiments, I helped my visiting researcher to work on another kind of physics research. My research work was not directly related to his work but I had time on my hands and could work with him so that he could finish his research. I never knew at that time that two papers we jointly published in his field of research would get me an assistant professor position four years later and allow me to do very intesting work in the University of Utah.
Chaos and chance always played a part in my life and I suspect in many of other scientists' lives too. It is just that there is no place to talk about it in classical physics. These are quantum events according to new sciences language---difficult to predict and control and inevitably change the course of future. Choice is always present during those moments except that one has to walk lightly and let go of expectations. Once life settles down after such quantum fluctuation, you either end up greatful and at a more energetic and powerful place or end up sad and feel like a victim blaming fate or God or others. ***
"Organizations have to really pay attention to quantum physics and new sciences more than they do," proclaimed Russ Volckmann an organizational development consultant and new sciences researcher in early 90's (who ended up being fist my client and then my research and consulting partner two years later). I was not too sure about quantum physics and organizations at that time. "Do you understand that classical mechanics dominates the universe at this macro level in the time periods we talk about? Quantum mechanical events take place in micro seconds and at extremely low temperatures in controlled settings. How do you create those situations in organizations and what do you mean by your statement," I hotly replied. I know Russ was looking at physics as a metaphor. It was clear that he was asking question in the form of a statement. But the answer to that question was not clear to me.
Is physics a metaphor? Yes and no. No, because physics tells me that if I try to defy gravity, I will fail. If you touch electricity, you will get a shock. Metaphors don't kill people. It took a while for me to understand that while real events and occurrences are different, physics and science in general is attempting to understand the real world occurrences by classifying, formulating and framing them in conceptual and abstract classifications, formulas and models. While Kepler's laws describe movements of planets, planets don't care about Kepler's laws. Planets do what they do and science attempts to udnerstand and explain real situations. In that respect, sciences are metaphors and new sciences are new metaphors.
As a scientist, I felt that work of Capra, Wheatley and others was on thin ground at first. While I could relate to what they are saying, their interpretations looked too broad and too general. I needed some boundary conditions and well formed hypotheses to begin experimenting and applying their principles and theories. The domain of science is objectivity, systematic inquiry and repeatability.
On reflection though, I can see what they are saying. It is intuitive and goes to the core of who I am --not what I do as a scientist. It is about subjective interpretation and intention that new sciences address and not the objective observation and interpretation alone.
Interestingly, new sciences are not the only ones that talk about uncertainty, quantum potential and self organizing systems. The philosophy I grew up with, Vedantic literature from India, is full of stories, metaphors and descriptions of participatory universe, meaning creation and the cycle of creation, destruction and renewal. In fact, the Holy Trinity of Hinduism: Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are Gods of creation, destruction and renewal and Vedanta explicitly talks about cyclical nature of the universe. In a great epic of India, Maha Bharata, Bhisma, a wise king on the deathbed, teaches leadership skills to his grandson Dharma Raja by saying that every human being has infinite potential (just like every root has some medicinal value) and it takes a great leader to unleast that potential in people. Vedas, the holiest of all Hindu books, are supposedly not written by human beings but are 'self-organized.'
In my own life, I moved from teaching and researching Physics to working with Apple Computer company and while I was going through my uncertainty of looking for next job that gives more meaning than the current one, accidentally (or should I say, synchronously) ran into an old friend who was well-known in the computer industry and was one of the creators of Macintosh. He was interested in how people learn and I was able to provide some guidance to him and working with him led me to realize that my life ambition is to research the nature of learning. The next thing I know, I got my boss's permission to work with this gentleman and together we were exploring the human learning with an objective of designing a learning processor that augments human intelligence. In other words, a 21st century computer. That search did not materialize in a product as we both got side tracked by other things though it did lead me to my current profession: research and consulting in the area of individual and collective learning in organizations. I have been at it for 10 years and I still feel like I am novice at understanding two dimensions of learning: learning that leads to tool building (information/tool design) and learning that leads to wisdom (transformation/genarative in nature).
On reflection again, my life went through several paradoxes and changes. Whenever and wherever I thought there was stability, there was chaos. Wherever I felt lost and scared, it led to new meaning and renewal. My current occupation is purely coincidental and not designed at all. For example, I thought I will continue research into nature of learning and make money by consulting on user interfaces and learning design when I quit Apple. I was sure that the research that cost over a million dollars into learning processors and learning interfaces would be of much interest to software and hardware companies. To my surprise, many companies wanted me to talk about the learning characteristics, learning disabilities and strengths of people to their human resource managers and I was asked to be on design teams for developing executive education programs. I was also asked to be on teams that are coming up with new products and new ideas, in other words intellectual capital development opportunities though I did not have much experience in "organization development or team development" field. After 8 years of being on my own, now I get most of my research funding/consulting working with companies on learning program design than computer software design.
Organizations have been influenced by what happens in sciences before. Taylor and his famous scientific management techniques have influenced industrial management methodologies. New sciences probably will influence information age management approaches. The question that is in mind though is how new sciences can be made practical.
In my own work with organizations, I found myself asking executives to focus on 'unlearning' rather than learning. When we begin to actively eliminate old and meaningless work practices and processes, then we can really free up employees to take on new challenges and begin to explore new ideas. Selective forgetting of old mindsets and cultural rituals also allows organizations to explore alternate scenarios and futures rather than just focusing on operational improvement issues. Similarly by recognizing that we participate in creating the workplace we have allows us to become courageous about using our passion and personal missions as enablers to cocreate new opportunities in organizations. Finally, recognizing that we are never observers to what happens around us and that we have power to participate (or not) can unleash hidden potential in all of us and allow us to reach new heights.
In conclusion, my perspective is that new sciences bring a subjective and collective dimension and when combined with objective and individualistic dimension already existing in organizations, we make organizations and individuals 'holons' (whole/parts) a la Arthur Kestler and Ken Wilbur. I am cautiously excited about the future of organizations!
New Sciences: My perspective
Prasad Kaipa, Ph. D. "How you feel about New Sciences? Do you think of science as a metaphor? How do you see new sciences affecting othganizations?" ---These are questions that are frequently asked of me when they come to know that I researched and taught physics for several years before moving into researching organizational learning. My first reactions were always defensive and I did not have anything positive to say in the beginning. As I had a chance to reflect on my own life journey new sciences not only made sense to me as a physicist I could also relate to new sciences as a philosopher (of Indian Vedanta). In the following essay, I attempt to address some of the key principles underlying new sciences as I look back into my past.
Some of the dilemmas I had to relate to in my life are:
1. Is Science a Metaphor or Real? It is real in terms of its applicability and metaphor as a principle. Let us take Keplers laws for example. Moon, Sun and other celestial bodies have been orbiting around each other and following certain patterns for a long time before Kepler came up with his laws. They are just for us to understand what is going on and take advantage of the natural motion if and when we can. While those laws or principles could be used by us to land a man on the moon, those principles don't affect the celestial bodies at all.
So scientific principles explain what is happening 'out there.' These principles are to be verifiable by other scientists and should be applicable to a wide variety of celestial bodies not just to those observed by Kepler.
Where does the metaphor part come in? As human beings we have our own orbits and some of those orbits are around other human beings. We have our own attractions and repulsions and we follow our own 'elliptical' orbits and follow our own patterns of behavior. Do the Kepler's laws apply directly to human beings - no. But they do serve us as a metaphor.
As a scientist, I do know that I look for patterns and underlying principles in any phenomenon that I observe. My beliefs and assumptions do affect my hypothesis and how I set the boundary conditions for proving or disproving my hypothesis. Based on what I am looking for, I pay attention to some data and I am totally ignorant of some other data that is simultaneously present in the same environment.
I remember an incident my finance MBA friend recalled recently. He was arguing with his collegue about a tax deduction he was suggesting to his client and why that deduction is valid. He tried to bring previous cases, tax laws and made his case as vehemently as he could. His colleague borrowed the same books and cases that my friend was studying and with a short study came up with reasons why that deduction is invalid using the same cases that my friend used!
2. Living in Chaotic vs. Orderly Universe
3. Quantum Age and Newtonian Principles
4. Observer and the Observed Paradox and the Participative Nature of the World
5. Collective Fields and Individual Behaviors
6. Focus on Energy vs. Form
7. Control and Let Go in Self Organizing Systems
8. The Search for Meaning in Chaotic Universe
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