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Enhancing the Quality of Knowing through Integration of East-West metaphors

Paper prepared for the conference on 'Knowledge and East-West Traditions' (Bangalore, December 2000), sponsored by the National Institute of Advanced Studies (Bangalore), History of Science Association (Japan), Third World Network (Penang), Vidyartha Centre for Science and Technology (Colombo), Heinrich-Boell Foundation (Germany), UNESCO (Jakarta and Korea), Futures journal, World Future Studies Federation (WFSF), Third World Studies Center (University of the Philippines), Asian Center (University of the Philippines)

Abstract: The paper briefly contrasts the commodification of knowledge, with its embodiment, its expression in relationship, or as a worldview. This is used to raise the possibility of forms of knowledge that may be relatively incomprehensible or incoherent to western-style science. Some social implications of knowledge organization are reviewed in the light of 'field', as an agricultural metaphor basic to knowledge work that helps to clarify issues of fragmentation, monoculture and integration. This metaphor is then used to clarify knowledge issues further in relation to: intellectual property and its possession; dispossession and resettlement; movement between fields; and embodiment. This framework introduces the challenge to science of set organization and comprehension, notably as a vehicle for identity and provision of coherence. Metaphors for understanding dynamics within sets are then presented as conceptual scaffolding, with 'global' offered as a cognitive challenge and 'crop-rotation' in fields as an example of a higher level of ordering set elements. Attention is drawn to the richness of eastern cultures as a source of relevant metaphors, emphasizing the use of 're-reading' as a metaphorical method. Some fundamental cognitive challenges are reviewed to which science eastern-style might therefore offer insights: polarization, territoriality and globality (using the I Ching as an illustrative metaphor); subjectivity vs objectivity; relationship and community (based on richer patterns of relationship between knower and known, notably in the light of eastern sexual metaphors); use of archetypal knowledge objects in computers in support of such insights; as well as questions of succinctness and comprehensibility in a period of increasing information overload and underuse. Ultimately the challenge is to design containers for meaning more appropriate to the challenges of society.

Beyond the commodification of knowledge
Embodiment of knowledge
Knowledge in relationship
Knowledge in worldview
Social implications of knowledge organization
Social architecture and knowledge architecture
Knowledge organization and its social parallels
Fundamental metaphors of knowledge work
Sets and their comprehension
Vehicles for identity
Metaphors as conceptual scaffolding
"Global" as an example of a cognitive challenge
Crop-rotation as a metaphor of more fruitful relationships between set elements
Re-reading as a method
Polarities, territoriality and globality: insights from the I Ching
Subjectivity vs Objectivity
Relationship and Community
Archetypal knowledge objects basic to computers of the future
Succinctness, grokability and overload
Containers for comprehensible meaning in the future

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This paper proceeds from the assumption that there is something missing in the current pursuit and articulation of knowledge. It is however far from clear exactly what is missing. In the light of the conference theme, it might be referred to as some form of "missing link" between eastern and western approaches to understanding -- perhaps best held currently by the tensions between them. It might be that it is qualities from eastern insight that are designed out of western approaches, reducing the quality of the resulting knowledge. It might be that the meaning of any form of "integration" or synthesis is elusive from a western perspective -- or from a purely eastern perspective. It might be that the purpose of the pursuit of knowledge has itself been eroded of meaning within a purely western context. As expressed by Susantha Goonatilake (1999): 'the modern agenda has run out of steam' (p.3).

Others have stressed the merits of the western approach or deplored the failure to acknowledge and integrate insights arising in the East or in indigenous cultures (Darrell A. Posey, 1999). This paper is therefore an effort to identify some reference points in terms of which future enhancement of the quality of knowing might perhaps be considered.

The fundamental assumption questioned is whether the priority for the immediate future is ever more quantities of western knowledge, or whether there is a need for the existing knowledge base to be strongly complemented by another kind of knowledge -- to ensure quality of life in sustainable global development. Or, as expressed by Goonatilake (1999): 'These quantitative changes [in growth of science] will require qualitative shifts in the nature of science.' (p.4)

es [in growth of science] will require qualitative shifts in the nature of science.' (p.4)

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