Posts Tagged ‘empiricism’

Left Brainers and Nonaka’s “Ba”

May 25, 2009

My friend and colleague Joitske Hulsebosch of Netherlands commented today on the previous blog:

    “Hi Serafin, very interesting. Did you hear about Daniel Pink? He wrote about the left-brainers ruling the western world, but thinks it is time for right-brainers now. Though he writes from a western perspective, it is interesting to see him explain both sides of the brain.”

I promptly called my favorite bookstore in Quezon City and they are readying a copy of Daniel H. Pink’s “A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future” for me to pick up this Friday. (Thank you Joitske!) According to author Daniel H. Pink’s website, the main argument in his book is that “the era of ‘left brain’ dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which ‘right brain’ qualities — inventiveness, empathy, meaning — predominate.”

In 1981 Dr. Roger W. Sperry won the Nobel Prize for discovering that the left and right hemispheres of our brain think differently:

left and right brain

Left brainers (or people whose left brain is overdeveloped while their right brain is underdeveloped) tend to go for engineering, computer science, information technology and mathematics. Right brainers tend to go for creative and entrepreneurial activities, designing, relationship building, strategic sensing and pursuit of adventure. In knowledge management, KM guru Karl Erik Sveiby observed that KM practitioners either adopt the “technology side” of KM or its “people side”. Left brainers are best in using IT for KM, but they tend to misunderstand the more tacit aspects of KM such as KM guru Ikujiro Nonaka’s “ba” and SECI model. I have read many criticisms of Nonaka that reveal to me more about the mindset of the critic than about what Nonaka is writing about.

“Ba” is the communication and interpersonal space built and nurtured between two or more people; it is characterized by trust, empathy and shared meanings. Practice of “ba” belongs to the indigo quadrant. It is an area of practice that right brainers are good at.

Remember that for centuries, the Japanese have been creating and transfering tacit knowledge from master to pupil through their traditional “iemoto.” Japanese iemoto schools have produced great masters in tacit knowledge of kendo, kabuki, ikebana (flower arrangement), chanoyu (tea ceremony) or chado (way of the tea), yakimono (pottery), sumo wrestling, Zen practice, Noh (a drama form), etc.

An example of a tool that helps a person shift from left-brain thinking to right-brain thinking is the “koan” in Zen Buddhism. Koan is another Japanese innovation. A koan usually takes the form of a question or riddle that quickly befuddles the left brain and thereby exposes the very limitations of the left brain to itself.

An example of a koan is: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!”

What are your thoughts upon reading this koan? What do those thoughts tell you about how your mind usually works?

A left-brainer trying to understand this koan is like a left-brain KM practitioner criticizing Nonaka’s “ba”. After Googling, here are some actual examples of left-brain explanations I found in the Internet:

    “A logical interpretation of ‘kill him’ is ‘cease to cling to his footsteps if you wish to match his wisdom,’ but I would never claim that this is what the passage means.”

    “I think that this is saying that if you meet the Buddha by the road (an actual road, i.e., a man preaching where there are people), he probably isn’t the real Buddha.”

    “…you do have to ‘kill’ your master to surpass him.”

Those remarks reveal the left-brain empirical orientations of the writers.

Let me attempt at one answer that illustrates the point I wrote about in my previous blog:

    “Buddhist” literally means “internalist” because the aim in Buddhist practice is for YOU to attain the INTERNAL state of Buddhahood or enlightenment. Hence, you don’t look for the Buddha on the road or anywhere outside of yourself; you discover the Buddha WITHIN you. You don’t walk and look around; you WAKE UP to a larger reality. What the koan is saying is that you should “kill” the very idea of trying to meet the Buddha on the road (or anywhere outside yourself). That idea is an obstacle to your growth; get rid of it.

How about you; what is your answer to the koan?

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A Paradox of 20th Century Scientific Practice

May 23, 2009

Science as practiced in the 19th and 20th centuries lies in Quadrant 3: it is biased towards observing and studying the outer world of forms and phenomena. With few exceptions, the inner world of consciousness is either ignored, denied or regarded as not real or less real, or reduced to its empirical, behavioral or operational counterparts. Listen to these authors:

    “Values, life meanings, purposes, and qualities slip through science like sea slips through the nets of fishermen. Yet man swims in this sea, so he cannot exclude it from his purview.”

    – Huston Smith

    The “modern Western character complex is connected with a peculiar perception of all things – including psychic and mental things – as ultimately reducible to quantifiable material entities. This is what gives it its ‘outwardness’.”

    – Robert Thurman

    Science views as real “any objectifiable entity or process that could be described in valueless, empirical, monological, process it-language.” According to this “flatland” view of the cosmos, “none of the interior dimensions and modes of knowing has any substantial reality at all… The mistake of modern science is that “all interior dimensions (of I and WE) were reduced to exterior surfaces (of objective ITs)… Modern science “aggressively invaded the other value spheres – including interior consciousness, psyche, soul, spirit, value, morals, ethics and art… pronouncing on what was, and what was not, real.”

    – Ken Wilber

The foundation of scientific knowledge is the scientific method of establishing objectivity and empirical validity. Listen to these quotations, particularly the eminent Austrian expert in the philosophy of science Karl Popper:

    Objectivity is based on “eliciting intersubjective agreement.”

    – Huston Smith

    “Ultimate truth, if there be such a thing, demands the concert of many voices.”

    – Carl Jung

    “…the objectivity of scientific statements lies in the fact that they can be inter-subjectively tested.”

    — Karl Popper

Current scientific practice is objective and outward in orientation, yet the very foundation of scientific validity is inter-subjective corroboration. Scientists in the 19th and 20th centuries prefer to define reality in terms of Quadrant 3, yet the fundamental basis of their method of validation is inter-subjective processes in Quadrant 4. Objectivity depends on inter-subjective invariance. Intersubjectivity is at the foundation of objectivity!

This paradoxical blind spot in modern science will fade away if science evolves to also embrace Quadrant 4 or what I call “indigo practices”. The indicators that this may have started to happen are:

  • The growth of humanistic and transpersonal psychology;
  • The emergence of experiential-phenomenological methods of anthropology (e.g. the early works of Carlos Castaneda);
  • Interest in paranormal studies;
  • Emergence of organizational learning and specifically the practice of team learning and dialogue;
  • The emergence of management of knowledge and other intangible assets;
  • The convergence between modern science and religion exemplified by the Mind and Life Institute mentioned in a previous blog.

These events are all part of global Megatrend #1: towards Yin. An interesting convergence that is worth watching is that between transpersonal psychology (Quadrant 3 science moving towards Quadrant 4) and Tibetan Buddhism (the only major religion that straddles Quadrants 1 and 4).

If mainstream scientific practice has been outward-looking, then its inward-looking mirror-image is Tibetan Buddhism. While modern science has developed empiricism (which is consensual corroboration using outward-looking data) for over 3 centuries to its present height, Tibetan Buddhism is unique in having developed the practice of consensual corroboration using inward-looking or experiential data gathered by thousands of monk-practitioners (lamas) for over 12 centuries. Quoting Thurman again:

    “In Western culture, the last frontiers of our material conquest of the universe are in outer space. Our astronauts are our ultimate heroes and heroines. Tibetans, however, are more concerned about the spiritual conquest of the inner universe, whose frontiers are in the realms of death, the between, and contemplative ecstasies. So, the Tibetan lamas who can consciously pass through the dissolution process, whose minds can detach from the gross physical body and use a magical body to travel to other universes, these ‘psychonauts’ are the Tibetans’ ultimate heroes and heroines.”

experiencing outer vs inner universe

The above critique of prevailing scientific practice is part of a paper I wrote in 2004 entitled “Patotoo: an Indigenous Concept of Validity and Some Implications” which was published in 2005 by the Institute of Spirituality in Asia as part of the book “Hiyang: Papers of the Colloquium on Research Methodologies in the Study of Spiritualities in the Philippines.” If you want to receive a copy of this paper, please email me (serafin.talisayon@cclfi.org).

Note that there are embedded links in this blog post. They show up as colored text. While pressing “Ctrl” click on any link to create a new tab to reach the websites pointed to. I acknowledge with thanks Wikimedia Commons for the images in this post.

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