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Learning a quantum lesson
Article Type: Book review From: Development and Learning in Organizations, Volume 24, Issue 6
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists (Eric Hoffer).
I’m not sure, but in using the Hoffer quote above I suspect I have committed some kind of editorial faux pas; I like it a lot – it speaks volumes to the continued potential of organizational learning in the new millennium – so I think I may have used it previously in my writing for this journal.
While readers of DLO have likely asked themselves many questions about the nature of learning, much current writing and research still cannot escape fixing learning as a mechanistic process. While I do often hear talk of a “quantum” this or a “process” that or a “dynamic” something else, I am equally often disappointed at the casual usage of such terms to characterize essentially linear, static, measureable, quantifiable phenomena. Thus, while nonlinear thinking has been relevant to organizational theorizing for at least a couple of decades, its application to developmental issues in organizations seems to remain largely unappreciated.
I have chosen for this review two books that remain curiously undervalued in development and learning circles, largely because they ask readers to cultivate a wholly alternative mind-set for thinking about these things. The Quantum Self (Zohar, 1990) and The Quantum Society (Zohar, 1994) (QSe and QSo hereafter) by Danah Zohar are seminal to breaking free of linear and static paradigms that still characterize much of the thinking about learning. These books are older than most that would be reviewed in professional journal space today, so in reviewing these specific works I also hope to be reviving them in a way.
And it will have to be a very specific condensed way. Indeed, if I could (unfairly) boil these two books down to a couple of fundamental premises, they would be:
Relationship is irreducible;
Learning is a relationship.
But these are explosive fundamental premises. Regarding the first, Zohar in QSe explains in fascinating accessible detail how our individual “selves” are the product of numerous foundational connections. Such connections begin with the elemental wave- particle duality of subatomic matter (matter is both wave and particle), and are inherent in brain function, perception and thus represent a new physics of consciousness, mind-body holism, and ultimately function to “form” what we call a self from gazillions of particle systems. When the wave-particle duality “collapses’” for a moment, we have a fleeting snapshot of what our “self” might be.
This quantum understanding of self underwrites an alternative understanding of how fixed and receptive we might be to development, learning and growth. As both a “self” and a composite of selves, we are constantly changing and shifting – in a more or less constant state of emergence seeking growth opportunities. More important, those opportunities come from relationships and interaction with others (to whatever extent we can say “others”).
In QSo, Zohar uses these ideas to construct a vision of how an alternative social “organization” might be understood. Indeed, as she states early in QSo,: “A quantum society may be more than just a model. It may be a very real possibility inherent in human consciousness” (p. 35). If true, such a society – or organization – would necessarily be holistic rather than fragmented, plural rather than individualistic, collaborative rather than competitive, and receptive/responsive to ambiguity. And once again if true, such a society would have much more veracity to the way “we” think and “are” on the quantum set of metaphysical assumptions.
But still I fear all this remains quite unusual to get one’s head around. As nearly all quantum thinking still struggles for the vocabulary to express it (in the developing years, chaos/complexity thinkers and advocates were referred to as “metaphor surfers”), Zohar knows full well that we need a different way to talk about “we”:
… [W]e need to ground the reality of ‘we” in a new conceptual structure, one that gives equal weight to individuals and their relationships, a structure that rests on the physics of consciousness, (QSe, p. 131).
If human beings are built for social interaction, and we are, then we are built for relationships. As such, we are built for learning as a constant process of emergence and continued learning. This may mean that much of what we would call development does not happen on the quantifiable path; it may mean that much of it happens in the spontaneous moment of wave-particle collapse, in other words below or off the radar of measureable criteria; it may mean deviations require a much broader latitude of accommodation before being labeled “error”. If everything in the universe is in essence a connection or duality, then we are never “out” of relationship; if that is true, then we are never not growing and learning.
R. Michael Bokeno Professor of Organizational Communication and BB&T Fellow in the College of Business, Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, USA.
Zohar, D. (1990), The Quantum Self, Quill, William Morrow, New York, NY, 268 pp., including notes, bibliography and index
Zohar, D. (1994), The Quantum Society, Quill, William Morrow, New York, NY, 362 pp., including notes, blbliography and index