I am very pleased to be able to introduce this profound enquiry into holding conflict by Louise Pardoe. Please click on the picture or link below to download a copy.
Louise has just completed her masters degree in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, and introduces her work as:
…a spiralling movement of experience which demonstrates how it is possible to hold opposites together. By combining the discourse of holistic science with the creative art of storytelling I explore the idea of the simultaneity of life and death, emerging into a space of creative tension where our idea of ‘reality’ is transformed.
Louise has had a career in the counselling, mediation and therapeutic professions, and when she arrived at Schumacher she was carrying a question which had dominated her entire life – why does there appear to be so much conflict in the world? As she says, this idea of conflict had been an integral part of her life for as long as she could remember, “witnessing arguments between people at home, school and work, seeing crises reported daily in the news across all genres of life – all seemingly caused by the clash of opposing viewpoints”.
What makes this dissertation so valuable is its exploration of the tension we as human beings hold between a traditional fixed view of reality and the world which we are coming to know as uncertain, complex and dynamic:
Chaos theory revealed that nothing in existence was predictable; and pointed to the idea that we must learn to live in an everyday reality which we ordinarily perceive to be fixed and replete with opposites, while at the same time living with a measure of uncertainty, paradox and ambiguity.
Just as Holistic Science is a transformative learning journey, Louise’s paper leads us into the experience of holding a paradox through a number of movements in thinking. These movements explore the philosophical foundations of Holistic Science, focusing on both the philosophical work of Henri Bortoft and dialectical method:
The dialectical method involves thesis, antithesis and synthesis; i.e., a way of looking to transcend opposites (antithesis and thesis) by combining components or elements to form a connected whole (synthesis).
The antithesis and thesis both have something in common, and an understanding of the parts requires an understanding of their relationship with the whole system; viewing the whole of reality as an evolving process. For example, in quantum physics, the superposition principle can be creatively discussed using the dialectical method of thinking.
Likewise, in biology, researchers Richard Levins (a mathematical ecologist) and Richard Lewontin (evolutionary biologist) approach biological research dialectically, focussing on the ‘whole’ rather than the ‘parts’ – “[…]part makes the whole, and whole makes the part.” (Levins & Lewontin 2009, p.272) They posit that a biological system is a collection of heterogeneous parts which contribute to the character of the whole, and at the same time, the whole has an existence independent of the parts and feeds back to affect and determine the nature of the parts. This back-and-forth (dialectic) of causation, implies a dynamic process.
This dissertation is an excellent introduction to the dynamic concept of wholeness articulated by Bortoft, but what is so excellent is that Louise develops her own exploration of his phenomenological approach by seeking to determine if there is a hidden myth within Holistic Science. Louise explains why this question is so important:
It could therefore be posited that an inability to see the wholeness and interconnection in nature could be the source of humanity’s distorted mythology, which manifests itself in the form of conflict, separation and ‘wrong thinking’ which Zimmerman, Bateson and De Quincey highlight.
In answering her own question, Louise presents us with a new myth for Holistic Science, a story in which the heroine Sophia is invited to solve a riddle:
By accepting the invitation she was exposed to new ideas within the discourse of holistic science, presented to her in a phenomenological way (sensory participation combined with objective reasoning). Through open discourse, she was able to perceive her reality differently until finally, she was able to hold opposing viewpoints at the same time; looking at phenomena from different angles over and over again at differing levels of scale. While there was no one answer (the answer was one and many at the same time) she discovered a deep sense of connectivity to a greater mystery of which she, and all of creation, was a part.
In her concluding comments, Louise truly captures the sense in change of perception entailed by all those who undertake the challenge of Holistic Science:
To see the world as a realm of interrelated ideas, where each phenomena carries its own individual ‘truth’, yet is not ‘the one absolute truth’, places us gently into open dialogue; connecting us directly with BOTH/AND, able to perceive reality as a continuous flowing unfolding. Indeed, seeing really is in the eye of each beholder, and each one of us (part) brings a priceless piece of information to the whole conversation; essentially placing us on speaking terms with the entire Universe, and inviting a different relationship with it.
As Louise comments:
Through the discourse of holistic science we are invited to hold apparently contradictory ideas as an essential part of understanding ourselves and the world; learning to see in contradictory ways the ever changing and flowing movement of reality – learning to see the world, and be in the world, differently.
This is one of Louise’s great contributions to helping us understand the way in which each and every one of us takes part in dialogue with all those we have relationships with. It is a huge lesson, by no means easy, but one of great value for those not only seeking to understand scientific phenomena, but in business too seeking to understand how dialogue and creative conversations can contribute to the development of authentic organisations with genuine propositions, leading to lasting sustainability and resilience.
I would like to congratulate Louise on this extremely important dissertation, for making it available for everyone to read, and I wish her all the very best as her adventures continue.