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Beyond Edge-bound Comprehension and Modal Impotence: combining q-holes through a pattern language


Beyond Edge-bound Comprehension and Modal Impotence
Combinatorial analysis of relations between finite sets (Q-analysis)
Pattern language: a timeless way of building
Annex I: The Timeless Way

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Notes prepared for Integrative Group B on the occasion of the 6th Network Meeting (Tokyo, August 1981) of the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (GPID) project of the United Nations University. Published in Patterns of Conceptual Integration. Brussels, UIA, 1984, pp. 149-160. [a searchable PDF version of the original article may prove preferable for some portions of the text].
Abstract: Explores the problem of disentangling the levels of confusion which a group (or an individual) may experience when faced with a set of concepts that is beyond its collective grasp. In such a situation special dynamics are engendered around whatever parts of the set can be grasped. These take on characteristics significant for psycho social organization when different parts are comprehended by different members of the group or when the group comprehends all such parts each in turn, namely one-at-a-time only in a temporal sequence or cycle. A pattern language may be developed to take creative advantage of this tendency.


This "paper" is a partially ordered set of notes relating aspects of:

  • mathematics of human needs (cf Marcus and Mallmann (1))
  • applications of combinatorial analysis of relations between finite sets, otherwise Known as Q-analysis(cf Atkin (2)3))
  • pattern language (cf Alexander (4,65))

The well-established confusion amongst those subject to the complex of societal problems is now compounded by confusion and uncertainty amongst those whose roles oblige them to offer insight, guidance and solutions. At all levels of society there is a sense of impotence and despair, frequently disguised by frantic exercises in public relations, "concrete" action, and expressions of "positive" thinking. There is an increasingly deep-seated sense of insecurity and a felt inability to order and control "one's life", "to come to grips with things", "to collect one's ideas together", or to get one's act together".

Typical responses to this condition are to see it as an opportunity for asserting and imposing some particular ideology, value-system, belief-system, or mode of action. Given the current complexity of society, this can only "succeed" by forceful suppression or containment of other modes. The next decades will presumably demonstrate the ways in which such "successes" are doomed to failure.

The difficulty for an individual or group in coming to grips with this confusion lies partly in the very "language" which is used to think about and order responses to it. Over the past decades the mode of response has been largely determined through a a limited set of terms, including the following:


Such terms form a kind of "conceptual establishment" through which all activity must be channelled. Clearly there are implicit relations between the terms which govern the Kind of activity which can emerge as legitimate and appear viable.

It is perhaps time to question whether these terms, and the ways in which they ere used, do not themselves conceal a mode which is necessarily doomed to the limited effectiveness by which social action continues to be characterized. Their deadening and alienating effects on people have, for example, been noted on many occasions. It is certainly fair comment to note that the use of these terms is directly associated with the "impotence" and "sterility" of responses to the current condition.

It is useful to ask whether other languages are emerging or can be developed which would both help clarify the experienced sense of confusion and empower people and groups to act without an accompanying sense of frustration and futility. The quest is therefore for a new and more fertile mode of action which may imply a plurality of languages. The existing mode would then take on characteristics analogous to the role of scholastic Latin over the recent centuries during which it was displaced as a vehicle by living vernacular languages.

One approach to this quest is to consider the problems of comprehension associated with the confusion which was taken above as the point of departure. Clearly there is a multitude of theories, proposals and insightful initiatives being generated and advocated at this time. Their very multiplicity contributes directly to the confusion. The antagonistic and strongly competitive relationship between their advocates ultimately leaves the process of ordering them, balancing them, and using them, as the responsibility of the individual user -even if he seeks security by delegating this responsibility end accepting the consequences.

How can the individual understand his position in this whirl of social artefacts ? Consider Fig. 1

Constraints on comprehension

Each individual is effectively at the origin of such a figure. Most of the "clarifying" insights and initiatives are however perceived as lying outside the the boundary (whose existence implies that they would be perceived as much distorted, if they are perceived at all). To paraphrase, it is very much a case of "One man's insight is another man's confusion".

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