(School of Social Ecology, UWS-Hawkesbury, Richmond 2753. firstname.lastname@example.org ).
A version of this paper has been submitted for presentation at the Inaugural Scientific Conference of the Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis, ANU, Canberra, 24-28 January 1998
Communication is a manifestation of life. The stunning diversity and
life-events are continuously revealed through communication. Life
communication and ends when the ability to communicate ceases. In
between these two
points, uncertainty is an inevitable companion of any
Everyday communication is deeply rooted in people's experience stored up in the form of instincts, memory, behavioural patterns, various conceptual and emotional associations. Human experience can be individual as well as a common inheritance and, as long as this inheritance predominates, communication is essentially about the past. No wonder that people's anticipation and predictions are mere extrapolations and projections of their past experiences into future time intervals. By projecting the past into the future, communication intends to reduce the effect of uncertainty about the future. In doing so, the communication process resembles the approach of contemporary science aimed mainly at reducing the uncertainty in human knowing.
When describing uncertain phenomena and processes, science uses
fuzzy and probabilistic
models based on 'objective' information from the past. When describing
life-events, communication uses habitual and associative thinking based
information from the past.
In artificial (human-made) systems, both fuzzy and probabilistic
perfectly. Using these types of modeling, bewildering virtual realities
scenarios can be generated by computers. Unfortunately, in human
and associative reactions generate repetition and triviality.
Repetition and triviality
are the price paid for the human endeavour to reduce uncertainty and
make the flow of life
predictable. But is it possible to impose predictability on the flow of
Statement: The flow of life is inherently unpredictable.
The proof of this statement easily derives from the self-referentiality
life - humans are both creators and products of their life. If an event
predicted to take place in some future moment, say (t+n), of the
flow of life of an
individual i (or a group of individuals g), the
individual i (or the
group g) is free to make decisions and act (at the moments
between t and t+n)
in such a way that instead of x, another event, say y,
Corollary: To predict the flow of life of an individual
(or a group of
individuals) is possible if, and only if, the freedom of the individual
(or the group) to
make decisions and act has been highly restricted.
The endeavour for certainty and predictability expressed in
affects our human freedom to make decisions and act. Obviously, the
more certain and
predictable people's behaviour, the less free they are. Slaves
follow orders - there
is no uncertainty in orders, only 'pure certainty' demanding
Those who follow pre-established patterns of behaviour dictated by
dogmas and doctrines,
prejudices and stereotypes, habits and norms, do not much differ from
slaves - their
freedom to explore and make sense of the uncertainty of life is
essentially restricted. Fixed
'optimal' solutions and 'best' strategies, pre-given directives and
imposed goals - they
all are designed to fight uncertainty. In this fight an inevitable
victim is the freedom
to think and act.
The Flux of Uncertainty
It is the flux of uncertainty that permanently opens a free
space for changes
and evolution of human thoughts and feelings, values and beliefs,
endeavours [1,2] . Moreover, uncertainty is the major propelling force
Without being supported by uncertainty, creativity withers. Without
being supported by
creativity, the communication process becomes trivial and meaningless.
Creative communication is a complex dynamic process, in which the
and mental characteristics of communicators are inseparably tangled
We introduce the notion of a vortex of communication in order to emphasize both this unique inseparability and the emergence of new meaning in any creative communication process.
The study of fluid dynamics shows [3,4] that the sucking 'self-organizing' force at the centre of a vortex cannot appear unless the participating streams (e.g., masses of running water, turbulent airs, etc.) are:
(1) permanently in motion, that is, in an out-of-equilibrium state, and
(2) intensively interacting with each other through various feedback
The streams of thoughts and feelings, expectations and hope,
intentions and aspirations,
expressed in verbal or non-verbal ways, are involved in the dynamics of
communication. Instead of the sucking force of a maelstrom or a
tornado, the self-organising
force of meaning-creation arises from the vortex of communication.
We call the meanings emerging from the vortex of communication living
They are unknown before the act of their emergence. They are
meanings in dynamics
- not settled once for ever, not imposed from outside the vortex, but
born from within the
vortex and impregnated by its whirling 'energies'.
One can find many examples of so called 'trivial communication',
where no meaning is
created. In those examples, the thoughts and feelings, expressed in
seem to be in a kind of 'standstill' - without intellectual or
emotional drive and zeal.
As usual, any once-for-ever adopted behavioural pattern, any habit and
stereotype, as well
as any 'borrowed'-from-outside viewpoint and argument, intends to
impose frozen patterns
in the space of human thoughts and feelings.
The vortices in communication cannot be formed by meanings already known to the communicators. The already known meanings bring forth either a passive 'groupthink' (manifested in the former East-European communist societies) or exhaustive competition (manifested in the present Western democracies).
It is the unknown reflected in existential uncertainty that
The unknown, felt and experienced in different
ways by different
individuals, serves as a powerful catalyst for the formation of
Interaction in Synergy with Uncertainty
Chaos theory is certain about inevitable uncertainty embedded in complex processes: because of this uncertainty, we cannot say much about their long-term development [4,5,6]. So interwoven and tangled are the factors influencing creative communication that it is hard to predict their dynamics. We cannot predict any single moment of emergence of new meaning from turbidity of communication - such moments are in the captivity of the unknown. In order to let them free, and yet be aware of their approaching emergence, we need to act in synergy with uncertainty.
To act in synergy with uncertainty means:
This way of (inter)acting does not fight uncertainty. On the contrary, it acknowledges that any time we fight uncertainty in an attempt to reduce or eliminate it, we miss both the living meanings of life events and the right moments of action. This is what usually happens in life - we understand an event only after it has irreversibly passed in the spatio-temporal continuity, that is, when it is too late to undertake an adequate action in response to it.
Maturana and Varela's notion of structural coupling defined as 'recurrent interactions leading to structural congruence betwen two (or more) systems' [7, p.75] stongly resonates with our ideas of interacting in synergy with uncertainty.
A natural law which we call the Law of Emergence is
at the basis of the
interaction in synergy with uncertainty.
Law of Emergence: The emergence of every phenomenon in
human life is
inevitably preceded by manifestations of subtle and yet perceivable
The Law of Emergence is rooted in the chaotic (nonlinear) dynamics
of complex systems.
An emergence represents a kind of bifurcation (a sudden qualitative
change) in the
system's dynamics. Any nonlinear process (e.g., human life) is subject
occurring as a result of tiny changes in its characteristic parameters.
These tiny changes
are caused by subtle forces preceding the act of emergence.
In human systems those subtle forces are perceivable as they are
always embodied in
some specific real vortices (e.g., clash of ideas, views, attitudes,
constantly arising in the flow of every individual life. This is the
reason for calling
them vortical forces.
Insights for Practical Application
How to capture these subtle forces? How to filter their faint
'voices' from the
thundering noise of all that whirling variety of ever-changing goals,
requirements, constraints, expectations, emotional and mental
constructs, which shape our
The answer to these difficult questions is surprisingly simple: what
needs to be done
is to decrease the volume of the noise inside us. We cannot do
much with the noise
coming from outside - we have no power to stop its generation. What we
are able to do is
to try stopping its stressful penetration into our personal emotional
and mental spaces -
or at least, to significantly decrease the energy volume of the noise.
There are many
techniques available for this purpose. When the noise gradually
evaporates, the feeble
forces responsible for an approaching emergence become recognizable.
So, the emergence by
itself ceases to be an enigma. Then, and only then, it is the right
moment to act in order
to prevent any destructive spontaneity.
In communication, the destructive spontaneity usually relates to
such phenomena as
confrontation and alienation, animosity and adverseness, disrespect and
hatred in human
relationships. It is not too difficult to grasp the subtle forces
emergence of breakdowns in communication - especially in our days, when
massive amounts of
human energy are drafted for use in extremely competitive,
self-centered and selfish
pursuits. What is not so easy to do is to notice the fragile forces in
favour of human
willingness to search for unity rather than separateness, cooperation
confrontation, dialogue and mutual respect rather than monologue and
The old algorithm: if there is a zone of overlap in communicators' opinions, build their consensus and cooperation on it, does not work under to-day's conditions of social instability, uncertainty and criticality. Tiny perturbations in communication process can dramatically narrow the zone of overlap while widening the existing gaps. As a result the whole building of consensus can easily collapse.
The new algorithm for acting in synergy with uncertainty in
communication practice can
be described as follows:
(1) Reveal the dynamics of differences on which the apparent contradictions in the communication process subsist.
(2) Try to understand the inner forces (however tiny and insignificant they seem to appear) propelling the dynamics of differences.
(3) Try to answer the following questions: Which of the forces have a destructive character - moving towards a breakdown in communication? And which of them seem to be in favour of moving the flow of communication towards dialogue and cooperation?
(4) Gently nudge from within the communication vortex, so that
the feeble unifying
forces gradually become clearer and stronger.
The described algorithm can be adapted for application in
facilitation and counseling
practice, as well as in narrative therapy.
The author is thankful to Dr Chris Bauer and Dr Jane Cioffi for the
related to the practical aspects of the ideas described in this paper.
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