Your Ontology getting lost in Epistemology??

First (V.) is Helene’s response, to (IV.) my observations on the dilemma of “defining reality”, that doing so presents “reality” is represented as decided in our brains! Natural reality is precisely the opposite, of course, everything NOT defined in our brains.  Yet… the epistemologists keep winning the dumb argument anyway… even though the true answer is so clear.

A way to extend the idea of “empathy” termed “holpathy” is used, referring to our ability to recognized thing as “wholes” to then later to be more defined, like “a dog” seen as a whole while lacking information to describe it in defined terms. Seeing environmental systems as wholes, also from the extent of their parts acting together perhaps, allows whole parts of nature to first be recognized intuitively, to THEN be defined by information gathered and made sense of later.

Having empathy for other people is very helpful that way, giving you a tangible feeling and impression for them as a whole first, without any hard information on what’s happening inside.  It’s similar for recognizing other whole systems in nature.  You draw on your ability to listen and watch intently and create an image that fits holistically, used for the appearances of other whole cultures, shifting relationships in business or personal live, for the ineffable characteristics of  “places” too.  Those holistic impressions become highly useful later for connecting or fitting in later arriving facts.

After that is our first exchange on the subject (III., II., I.) III. discusses the question Helene asks, in II., whether holistic recognition addresses what some call “humanity’s original logic error”; mistaking logical states for natural forms, and the interesting approach of Barry Kort. I. first introduces the idea of “holpathy” for helping relieve our general cultural blindness to natural systems.

My scientific method for whole systems, developed in the early 80’s, also follows this “seeing the whole helps make sense of the parts” approach (fig 2).  I commonly start with data on continuities of change, like growth curves, that convey a holistic character of the system behaving as a whole to produce it, and of its current changes of state.  It offers a “home base” in one’s reasoning and a way to refer to the same whole system in nature for others to look at, as well as a central location for putting together all the information on a subject associated with it, to unify holistic and analytic information, like a replacement for equations to use with complex natural systems.

1. God's Cookie Jar - contains all the parts in wholes!

Whole systems have character you can intuit but not define, to then use as a mental framework to help fit bits of disconnected information you collect together

V. From: Helene Finidori To: ‘JL HenshawSent: Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum for those in NYC last Friday – a little holpathy please?


I think you put your finger on the problem. And from what you wrote and the reading of these recent articles I think the problem is double. First it seems that as soon as someone starts talking of reality or nature and what is observed, or ontology, they place themselves in the realm of rhetoric and epistemology, and that’s where hard core ‘epistemologists’ get a win…

Second, it seems that there’s some form of confrontation between natural scientists and social scientists that may ‘obscure’ the conversations, to which the layperson is stranger… Hence someone like me who comes from neither of these backgrounds gets lost because the distinction between the two is not actually that clear cut, and these notions are difficult to understand…

“treating nature as more authoritative on “what reality is” than our own concepts and theories” and “suspending your own judgment and “fall back on” studying the objects of nature in their own natural forms, and see if that turns out to be more satisfying in the end than just deciding what reality is in our imaginations for ourselves”

are ideas quite difficult to grasp, especially when you consider that observation is generally followed by some form of inference that happens in our minds that necessarily involves some form of judgment/evaluation, cognitive processing, conclusion and decision. So one can argue that “mind is more authoritative than nature” in the sense that it forms a subjective understanding of what has been observed, which interferes in behavior, decision and action however ‘rational/constructed’ or ‘natural’ it may be… this indeed is rhetoric that I think is counter productive to the ideas that you would like to bring forward.

What is key as you mentioned is to keep ‘aware’ and in observing/experiential mode so as to discover the hidden inner workings both of natural and social phenomena and sense new elements as they become visible. I like the analogy with empathy, and why not talk of empathy with natural processes? It’s like attuning ourselves with nature and increasing the acuity of our senses and intuition, just like indigenous people have been enjoying for millenia….

So I like your idea of thinking both ways, in a back and forth between natural and social, sense and intuition, perception and reasoning; combining ontological and epistemological approach without expressing it as such so as to avoid bringing about an artificial duality.

And resolving conflict by walking each other through what is observed and discovered and through our respective subjective ladders of inference, questioning our assumptions… to make our subjective understanding as objective as possible, and to widen the intersection between our various subjective understandings. (you asked for some references to Argyris’ work on ladder of inference , here’s an interesting one:


IV. From: JL Henshaw To: ‘Helene Finidori’ Sent: Monday, March 4, 2013
Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum for those in NYC last Friday – a little holpathy please?


Another good suggestion.   Yes, it would be great to be able to address the issue in terms of the classical philosophical discussions, like you introduce.    I have been unable to get that to work, though.   For the epistemology/ontology debates I seem to always end up floundering around, with what amounts to “the epistemology of ontology” discussions that lose track of nature and convert every question into rhetoric, making the question moot it seems.

I don’t get people in those debates to treat nature as more authoritative on “what reality is” than our own concepts and theories.   You’d need to suspend your own judgment and “fall back on” studying the objects of nature in their own natural forms, and see if that turns out to be more satisfying in the end than just deciding what reality is in our imaginations for ourselves.   In the course of the debates I find myself in anyway, the apparent reason I always lose that battle is that the group consensus becomes that nature is whatever concept the group decides on (hooray!), treating the mind as more authoritative than nature!   That always appears to be what the groups of “people who like to decide stuff” put their trust in.

Nevil Spencer does point to places where “just deciding what things are” is inadequate, like when he says “ There remain ontological questions about society since much of society lies outside the realm of thought itself (e.g. social relations or even just solid socially produced objects).”   But he doesn’t then go on and demonstrate it, that what you find if you yield to nature for authority for what nature is, you find pervasive patterns of very concentrated “missing information” in a great many places.   Much of it is for the visibly most highly complex kinds of organization in nature, working by means deeply hidden from human view, located right where the highly organized behaviors of individual natural systems seems to originate.

I find that a quite convincing way to end the inconclusive philosophical arguments for me…, seeming to say it’s apparently nature’s job to decide what nature is, not mine.     It fails to end the debates, as others just become dismissive, and treat the serious problem of natural behavior as if an intellectual parlor trick.    At their most polite, the responses I get from them are versions of “we don’t think like that”, followed by my being dismissed as unqualified for that reason.   So the old deterministic paradigm that all causation is external,… is still holding fast it seems.

So, starting with “empathy” as the work of acknowledging the hidden organization and internal causes of others, lets you talk to a people who already work with behavior that emerges from within systems that are hidden from external view.   The thought is maybe it’ll be easier to introduce a similar idea, as “holpathy”, a work of acknowledging hidden organization and internal causes of other kinds of natural systems that behave by themselves.    At least that might be talking to right group of people, maybe, people who “think that other way instead” already.

The object in the end is for people to become comfortable thinking both ways, of course, and make it a practice of going back and forth.    After intuiting a form of hidden organization, say by empathizing with another person who does something unexpected, you’d generally switch thought processes anyway.  The usual thing is then to look more closely at the information you have, to see if it helps inform the vague intuitive image you get thinking empathically,  and helps you ask the right questions to clarify what’s happening.

So that’s more or less my suggestion, for a general practice of learning about how the world works, going back and forth between intuitive and analytic approaches.  You first recognize whole system behaviors to help you find information for understanding what they mean, trusting nature as the only authority for what reality is.   So it’s a combined ontological and epistemological approach.   You might be first tipped off by unexpected information (a conflict between stakeholders that wasn’t there before) and then develop an intuition for how the environment has changed behavior to help you look for the information that tests the intuition and clarifies the picture.   Then people can address the actual problem as a need to be creative about something rather than let a conflict spread, maybe.



III. From: JL Henshaw To: ‘Helene Finidori’ Sent: Monday, Mar 3, 2013

Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum – a little holpathy please?

Helene,   Great question.    As usual, this grew a little long, but I think may help bring this to closure.

I used the prefix “hol” as in “holism” in constructing the word “holpathy”, referring to an awareness like “empathy” for systems that behave by themselves, but yes, you might write it “holepathy” too, to mean “thinking about what’s in the holes in our thinking” .   Empathy does mean that, for thinking about the hole in our thinking for what’s going on inside someone else, invisible to us.

With empathy we go beyond logic and intuit and test our awareness of the internal feelings and perceptions that other people have, characterizing their internal mental and emotional organization.  Holpathy refers to going beyond logic to intuit an awareness of the internal organization of natural systems of any kind, that we observe behaving as individual wholes.

Like for our own bodies, how we  behave as a whole is by how we are organized as a whole internally, but largely hidden from view and in many ways not reducible to logic.    The same is the case for how human cultures, businesses and languages work, working by their own internal organization to work as a whole.  Each is an individual organism-like system, working by a self-defining internal network of relationships that serves as a shared commons for its parts, like a business is an organized commons for its employees.

If you can identify a boundary for a system and see that it behaves as a whole, like for storms, families, species, plants, animals, ecosystems, etc..  It implies they also have an internal organization by which they behave as a whole, serving as commons for their parts, that one might develop some greater intuitive as well as logical awareness of as a whole.   Extremely different individually behaving systems would still have similarities, but you wouldn’t expect, say, a forest fire considered as a whole system to have many properties like an economy or an ecology.   They all do consume energy, change by developmental processes, and have parts and internal organizations that do respond to limits and affect the organization by which they work.

That we don’t yet have familiar terms for discussing natural systems as “organisms” of a sort, could be seen as a “hole” in our language from our natural lack of information about what happens inside other things.    To fill that hole in our terms of discussion I have been using terms of natural language generally, like “culture” to refer to both our customary meaning and the hidden organization within them, that allows them to be identified.    Natural words already identify lots of natural phenomena that way, and already contain complex meaning for the systems they directly refer to.   Coining a new word like “holpathy” was to reach for a rare chance that I might use the natural meaning of “empathy” as “awareness of what’s inside another person” to suggest the same sort of thing for “awareness of what’s inside another system”.

I think there is a fairly simple connection with “the HOLE story” according to Mr Lava(?)(or maybe it’s Barry Kort) on his blog… “Molton Lava”.    Lava’s idea is that “the original sin” and “curse of knowledge” is the pervasive common error in our reasoning of reducing nature to logic, and so representing the difference between things like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as absolute separations, instead of as a continuity of gradations like seen in an “S” curve: .

"S" curves are often thought as a single equation, as if nature followed the rules we find useful for predicting things, a self-validated assumption, then

I think that idea is a great lead to going a little further.   A weakness is that it still defines nature as being in our logic, and not as complex systems, just advancing our logic from jumps to continuities.  Clearly such dichotomies are much more complex than a simple equations is the limitation of it.    I think the greater difference between our ideal concepts like “good” and “bad” and reality, of course, is to be found *in the environment* and not in either logical definitions of fuzzy ethical theories in our heads, no matter how we enrich them.   The information world in our minds is just no match, (is of inherently inadequate ‘variety’) compared to the complex organization of differences we find in experience, especially for systems that work as wholes and behave by themselves.

It’s that “hole” in our thinking, for the hole in our information on how things work inside, I’m pointing to with the idea of “holpathy” for acknowledging what is going on inside whole systems in our environment.   It would seem kind of obvious that *something* must be happening inside things that behave by themselves, so you wonder how we might have “missed it”, really.    The evidence we really seem to have “missed it” is partly that throughout the sciences we do indeed persistently describe things that operate from the inside as being controlled by influences that are outside…

I think it’s possible “we just prefer it”, as a way to represent nature as the logic in our heads.   In trying to explain how things with interior organization work by themselves I can certainly confirm that people both have much difficulty even understanding the idea, and also most often seem to find it distasteful.  Being that’s my experience, maybe we should use Lava’s definition where possible, that the “hole in our heads” is not recognizing gradations of differences.

I also talk a lot about “S” curve gradations, for gradations in how change starts and ends .   I often focus on the turning point in the middle (*).  That’s where the curve changes direction, separating the whole change into two phases.  First the change has “start-up type of organization” of starting small and taking successively bigger steps for “breaking away from the past”, then at the (*) the process changes to have an “end-up type of organization” that proceeds by successively smaller steps for “homing in on the future”, to make the whole transition a continuous.

systems emerge with growth and stabilize with maturation

On either side of the turning point, you might have a mix or alternating “colors of change” as Nicolas was sketching, I think.    But to understand much more you still need to develop some “holpathy” or “empathy” to have a holistic appreciation for what’s happening to attach your bits of information to, to hole them together.   That’s what helps make real sense of what triggered, developed and was resolved as the whole process of change you’re considering happened.



II. From: Helene Finidori To: ‘JL Henshaw’ Sent: Monday, Feb 27, 2013

Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum – a little holpathy please?

Jessie, is the holepathy you are talking about related to humankind’s original logic errors?



I. From: JL Henshaw To: ‘Helene Finidori’ Sent: Monday, Feb 27, 2013


Subject: RE: Meeting with High Level Forum – a little holpathy please?


It’s fairly common for socially sensitive minority stakeholder issues to end up being marginalized, then discredited, and then forgotten.   That’s the case for those scientific questions I keep raising, about popular social policies that clearly seem to have the opposite of the intended effect.    The indigenous peoples have felt that sting too, of course, as well as innumerable other minority groups and innovators as they attempt to assert their identity.   The exclusion of “science”, considered as “learning about what actually happens”, relegated to a tiny minority without any political constituency or ability to get a word in edgewise is more consequential than most.    The professional science community is itself a source of the problem, having social taboos against the new findings its social groups find unpleasant too.

Ultimately there’s no way to defend against that sort of asymmetrical social treatment of valid stakeholder views, except to stay on high alert to their power to mislead and watching for the signs of the social exclusions that result.  History has just not yet taught us to have societies not obsessed with avoiding learning and change.

For social values we can use empathy, to avoid excluding the emotional issues of others, but what do we do for our blindness to the whole world of changing natural systems, the workings of the world that are not located in the social sphere at all?   If we have “empathy” for recognizing the emotions of others, maybe the equivalent for acknowledging the organisms of nature and their ways is “holpathy” (?).

We really need an awareness of the living systems of nature that develop and behave as wholes, you know, that whole litany of kinds of cultures that individually behave in richly complex ways as environmental organisms, which everything we do depends on.   Our usual social dialectic just ignores them as having their own existence, treating them as contained abstractly in the meanings for our words instead.   That’s the big blind spot I keep running into.

I’m not sure what to do about that, but believe I can readily demonstrate this blind spot is quite central to all our difficulty with getting along with each other as well as with the earth, that we don’t acknowledge nature’s working parts…

I’m certainly not against sketching out strategies for “cooperation at multiple levels and scales”, thought I struggle to find how to use the debategraph tool you like for yourself.   I don’t see nature as a word map, at all, so I’m more inclined to thinking of “multiple levels” in ecological terms, of communities of individuals that need to work together as a whole on one scale, and as a community act as an individual finding a role in a larger environment working as a whole too.  It takes a lot of “holpathy” to even know what is referred to by that, however.

Reserving a place in the discussion for “what actually happens” is part of it, and to not having that reduced to a co-equal social convention to be determined by popular acceptance.    It’s just not equivalent to say that a word like “efficiency” can be used in lots of different ways, which is quite true, but then conclude we need not have a way to check whether the effect claimed occurs or not.    Sure, language is quite free-form in conversational use, but if we are asking people to invest scarce resources to achieve a certain effect, it’s fair to ask if it’ll actually happen or not.

Unfortunately, that seems to take more “holpathy” than people are willing to consider… as yet, in this case leading to the need to explain why the world as a whole displays the exact opposite of the effect for efficiency generally claimed.   The further step of understanding a better choice then keeps getting cut off, as the discomfort with facing the problem has been (for many decades actually) shutting off the discussion of the puzzle prematurely: Why do we believe in the opposite of what is visibly happening?

How would “Chris Argyris’ action science work that focuses on misunderstandings due to frames of reference and assumptions of the position of others” apply here?   Could you offer a link or two to what you are referring to in his work?   Was he the originator of the “ladder of inference” discussion or just a recent contributor to it.   I happen to see some misunderstanding due to the frame of reference used for that discussion too… but his learning method might be very helpful to learn from.

So, then, we quite agree that:

So the “game of “Know Me”, with the individual working parts of the natural world” could include the working parts of the social and political world as well, helping distinguish what is internal/external at various levels, and showing how the parts can work together and produce positive externalities while reducing the negative ones, which is basically the systemic framework for commons action that we have laid out in the PST draft…

I think they’re just unstated, but needs to include two provisos.  One is that such “working parts” are recognized as environmental organisms of the natural kind we observe working as whole behavioral units in our environment (and are not the abstract terms we use for discussing our information on them).   The other is that “positive” and “negative” values may fluidly change either in nature or in our views, calling on people to *pay attention* to not lose track of what’s happening.

Does that sound OK?



2) figure from  the 1985 paper on a scientific method for investigating independently behaving whole systems. Directed Opportunity, Directed Impetus: New tools for investigating autonomous causation

2. Relating multiple kinds of data to narratives and impressions of a recognized system behaving as a whole



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