Immersive systemic knowing : rational analysis and beyond

Rajagopalan, Raghav

November 2015

Thesis or dissertation

© 2015 Raghav Rajagopalan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Applied systems thinking has rapidly developed through successive waves of development, and the current reigning paradigm is the revisioned approach to critical systems thinking.

This research scrutinizes systemic intervention. It employs the methods of second-order science to apply some of its principles reflexively back on to the domain to discover two gaps: one between the espoused aims of systemic intervention and the adequacy of its methods, the other about its dependence on dialogic rationality. It also delves into its philosophical underpinnings to trace the reason for this gap to the ‘ghosts’ of rationalism. This is because modern Western thinking equates consciousness with intentionality. I argue that there is another well-recognised mode of consciousness, that of non-intentionality. I name these two modes as the becoming-striving and the being-abiding orientations.

To address the gap, firstly, a characterisation of the systemic ontology is attempted. Three basic features are identified: mindful interconnectedness, enactive cognition and teleonomy. I also describe plausible political, epistemic and pragmatic goals for systems thinking arising from this ontology.

Four methods from adjacent disciplines are examined in detail to show that these address the systemic ontology in better fashion than existing systemic approaches. These mature global contemporary approaches access knowings corresponding to the being-abiding orientation, absent in systems thinking.

A suitable ontoepistemology for systemic knowing must comprise of two ontologies and epistemologies corresponding to each of the two consciousness modes: four component elements. Suitable conceptual models from other disciplines serve the purpose of these four components. Thus, a model of immersive systemic knowing is assembled, which meets the requirements of a framework for systems thinking in terms of the goals posited.

A key feature of this research is the espousal of experiential knowing: not in a phenomenological sense, but in terms of a radical empiricism. It argues for the value of practical knowings that go beyond rationalistic formulation, which are always held in the margins (in the language of boundaries). Systemists must actively seek such experiential knowing to enact truly creative improvement. The only answer to the problem of knowing the world better is to know the shadow aspects of the knowledge generating system. This requires truly radical methods and an extended epistemology, all shown to be available plentifully in other practices and cultures. Testimony is provided from two field projects that were a part of these inquiries, and from practitioner accounts.

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