STRUCTURAL COMMUNICATION

an introduction by Anthony Blake

 

This method was developed by John Bennett in the late 60’s and applied to secondary education and, eventually, to management training. In later years, it was simplified and modified to create a method of group discussion that is, today, used in management circles. Arie de Geus mentions it in his influential book ‘The Living Company’ though its genesis is not recorded there.

In this introduction, we make use of ideas that are to be found in the separate articles on Mental Energies and Systematics.

Structural Communication has evolved into logovisual technology* and has turned out to have wide-ranging application far beyond the relatively narrow concern of the early days with teaching in schools. It has even evolved beyond the restricted management applications that were developed over the last twenty years. This is very much ‘work in progress’ and we can only indicate possible lines of future development.

* Logovisual is a proprietary name owned by CMC, the Centre for Management Creativity, UK. The information concerning logovisual technology should not be used without permission.

 

"The data in any given system may be recognised by everyone as the being the same. What differs is assessment — ‘the art of handling the same bundle of data as before but placing them in a new system of relations with one another, thus giving them a different framework’ (to use the words of Butterfield). Nature herself builds up structures in this way. Aristotle points out that ‘matter . . . can never exist without quality and without form’. P. Weiss observes: ‘Take a gene out of an organism and it has no more meaning than a particular set of cards has outside . . . a game of poker or bridge. Both information value and function are context dependent." Emilios Bouratinos

THE METHOD

Understanding

Structural communication began in research into learning that involved understanding rather than knowing. It is the kind of learning that includes the ability to interpret new situations in terms of principles, or to design solutions to complex problems. It is the kind of learning drawn into play when people enter into mastery of a subject. It is the synthesis of theory and practice, being able to see the wood for the trees and making complex judgements.

Mental Energies

In Bennett’s own terminology of ‘mental energies’, this kind of learning involves ‘consciousness’ as opposed to the more basic reactional awareness that he called the ‘sensitivity’. Consciousness is able to ‘see the whole’ and not get lost in the parts. It is able to entertain alternative views of the same situation and consider them together. There are four ‘mental energies’, including the ‘automatic’ that operates below the threshold of our awareness and the ‘creative’ that operates above this threshold. The model provides a useful descriptive framework.

Creative
Sensitive Conscious
Automatic
 

Sensitivity deals in parts, while consciousness deals in wholes. Creativity brings something new, while automatism repeats the old.

Reading

Further to this concern Bennett and his co-workers made experiments in levels of consciousness involved in reading. It was found that we engage with a given text at various levels of mental energy, fluctuating from moment to moment. This meant that there were (according to Bennett’s model) four distinct kinds of reading:

1. automatic level — reading without any awareness of what is read — the words are there but they are not ‘meaning’ anything

2. sensitive level — reading that registers the meaning of the words in terms of the network of associations the reader has — the reader can verify he is reading correctly

3. conscious level — the reader is able to separate his own set of meanings from that of the author and able to compare them — this is the level of understanding at which he can ‘meet the author in dialogue’

4. creative level — the reader transforms what he reads into a deeper meaning than either he or the author had before

If we were able to sustain reading at the conscious level, structural communication would be superfluous. Gurdjieff pointed out to his pupil Ouspensky that he ‘could not read’ — even the books he had written himself. This meant that he was unable to read consciously. Needless to say, it is often the case that what is being read is not even at the sensitive level!

Bennett’s position was that consciousness could be evoked by appropriate challenge. This meant that some task was created that could not be met by an automatic response, nor even a sensitive one (that is, a ‘reaction’). The studies found that even well-educated people could not refrain from reacting to what they read, which tended to obscure the insight available from the text. Like and dislike were tyrants. Hence there appeared a need for some artifice by which readers could be challenged in such a way that their usual reactions were suspended, making them capable of learning at a conscious level.

Tutorial

This kind of learning was taken to be represented in the small group tutorial. In the tutorial, the students do not simply learn to recite information and practice techniques — the very way they think is challenged. As the tutor and student converse, the tutor does not simply ask questions and tell the students whether they are right or wrong; he involves them in a dialogue that broadens their grasp of the subject. Whatever the students come out with, they are challenged to go further.

Bennett’s aim was to simulate the conditions of the small group tutorial in a way that could be programmed in advance and administered at a distance without the actual presence of the tutor.

Common Language

His first breakthrough was in seeing that there needed to be a common language to interface between tutor-at-a-distance and student. In the small group tutorial, the students have to acquire a working language in order to enter into dialogue with the tutor. They must know what is meant by technical terms — such as ‘entropy’ in physics — and also by references to events — such as ‘Henry VIII’s formation of a new church organisation’ in Tudor history. They must have ‘read up’ about such things. For any given topic there will be a ‘universe of discourse’ that tutor and student must share, even though the tutor’s knowledge will be far more extensive.

Coupled with this insight was the realisation that such a working language could be constituted out of a set of discrete elements, each of which represented a key piece of information relevant to the universe of discourse. For any given topic, about twenty or so such items were found sufficient to give an adequate working language. A useful way of thinking about these items is as ‘molecules of meaning’ — ‘molecules’ because they could be fitted together to make larger wholes supporting interpretations, designs, etc. Because the working language was to be composed of a set of MMs (molecules of meaning), they needed to be of much the same type, or on the same level of abstraction. To illustrate the point: the method came to be used in the analysis of case studies in management education, when the working language was composed of facts pertaining to the case.

In broad terms, any text can be reduced to a set of MMs that contain nearly all the information it contains. If we know what the MMs mean, then we know the text and what it is about. This is the first level of learning (at the ‘sensitive’ level). 

Sub-sets

The second breakthrough was to realise that we could ask questions capable of being ‘answered’ or responded to in terms of a selection of a sub-set of MMs from the total. A crude but useful analogy is with a court of law in which the same evidence is used by both sides of the dispute to argue different points of view. Prosecution and defence will select evidence to make their case in different ways. What is minimised or dismissed by one side can be emphasised and made significant by the other. Thus, the same MMs (supposedly ‘facts’) are given different values according to point of view.

In the simplest form of structural communication, the author-tutor would create questions such that he could programme the system to detect understanding and misunderstanding by means of tests of inclusion and exclusion. He gave meaning to sub-sets of the MMs in terms of relevance to questions. Say he wanted his students to express the essence of the second law of thermodynamics. If they failed to mention entropy then they were sure to be missing something important out. On the other hand, if they included something like specific heat they were also missing the point, because it is basically irrelevant. So, for any question created by the author-tutor, he could divide the MMs into two or three sub-sets. One set would consist of those factors that should be included. A second would consist of those that should be excluded. There could be a third set of MMs that were indifferent either way.

Diagnostics

But this can be made as complex as one likes. There will be some MMs that are more important than others, or absolutely essential. Others could be relevant but of lesser importance. Similarly, there could be MMs that would demonstrate serious misunderstanding and others that would only indicate a small confusion. More than that, there could be MMs that had to be considered together as a whole. For example, the second law of thermodynamics does not only indicate an increase of entropy in any change but also requires the understanding that this applies only in a closed system. The one without the other is inadequate. So, we could also seek to test for total inclusion of the essential items and allow for only partial inclusion of secondary ones.

The testing of inclusion and exclusion was conducted by a series of diagnostic tests. According to the result of the test on the student’s response, so the author-tutor prepares a corresponding comment. This need not simply tell him whether he was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It could give him or her further food for thought and a chance to try again. The student is left ‘suspended’ giving him or her opportunity to make another step.

In this way, the student would be taken through a series of ‘moves’, learning by doing.

Structure

From about 1967 to 1970, the method was applied to teaching chemistry, physics, mathematics, history, leadership, case studies, etc. first in schools and then in management training. The educational application followed a set pattern:

INTENTION — stating the purpose of the work

PRESENTATION — giving descriptive information on the topic

ARRAY — A set of twenty or so MMs drawn from the presentation arranged without any obvious order

INVESTIGATION — usually four questions calling for interpretations that could be expressed by a subset of the array

DIAGNOSTICS — the logical tests of inclusion and exclusion

COMMENTS — the further statements relevant to the outcomes of the tests

OVERVIEW — a statement returning to the intention and articulating the basic principles of the topic

Flatness to Depth

This seven-fold scheme proved an excellent vehicle for the method. It allowed the student to explore the inner structure of the topic and come to see how the MMs related to each other in deeper and more subtle meanings than those that appear on the surface. The ‘flat’ surface of the array acquired depth. In a qualified sense, the student gained his or her understanding by doing something with the information with which they were provided.

The disorder or randomness of the MMs in the array left it up to the student to discover the ‘hidden order’ that lay behind it. The step of understanding involved may be likened to how an ‘autostereogram’ first appears as a random set of dots and then reveals an image in three dimensions.

The work of the author-tutor was considerable. Take the creation of the questions. These had to be designed, as far as possible, such that every MM was involved in at least one of them as an ‘essential’. This could be extended so that every MM played a different role in every question: strong inclusion, weak inclusion, strong exclusion and weak exclusion.

THE NEXT STEP

Creativity

The essential nature of the method hinged on having a ‘flat’ interface — the array — in which every MM appears on the same level as any other. The interactive process was designed to enable the student to share in the ‘depth’ of meaning behind this surface.

It became obvious that the process of constructing a piece of structural communication was far more demanding and rewarding than just interacting with it. This is because the construction required creative energy, postulated as above consciousness. The author-tutor had to act on the creative level, so that the participating student could act on a conscious level. The conscious level, in its turn, could serve to organise the knowledge acquired at the sensitive level.

If a first level learning takes place in sensitivity, then a second level learning takes place in consciousness and a third level in creativity.

Research began into how it might be possible for students to engage in the construction process and be ‘creative’. This meant that they had to be involved in creating the array of MMs and also in the generation of questions as well as their interpretations. This work was led by Tony Hodgson, a student of John Bennett.

Magnetics

A move in this direction was made possible by means of the device of magnetic hexagons that could be written on and affixed to a metal-backed white board. One such technology is called MagNotes. Such hexagons could be placed and removed, written on and erased. A group meeting in discussion could work together to build their own common language. According to circumstance, they could be as precise or vague in their terminology as they cared to be.

In relation to their array of MMs, the group could raise questions, such as: ‘What are the factors that have a bearing on our mission?’ or ‘What represents the obstacles to change?’ and so on. In response to such questions, the group could select and ‘cluster’ the hexagons. Hexagon shapes were used because they fit together well in clusters. If different people had different views, then they could discuss the issues involved by reference to their common language. This meant that they could be more objective in their exchanges. In a verbal conversation, even supported by flip-charts, there can be no common language, so confusion is likely. By having the exchange based on moving the hexagons about into different clusters, they could more easily see how each other was thinking. It also involved the participants in a physical activity of movement and manipulation that facilitated learning by engaging more of the person.

By this means, the essentials of structural communication were made available to the participant for him to work at as he or she pleased. The main application was to groups, because in this way a variety of interpretations was made available to all. The creation of the working language required consensus but the investigation brought differences to the surface.

Facilitation

Needless to say, the working of this method very much depended — and depends — on the quality of facilitation brought to bear. It is more than useful to have present someone who is versatile in the techniques. Here we have a paradox: the same system that enables people to find out for themselves enables someone of understanding to better educate them. The method is a powerful tool in providing an interface between people identified with partial views and someone who is not. Below, we refer to Chris Argyris’ statement of four kinds of mentality, which needs to be mentioned here because it supports the point we have made. In this scheme, the fourth mentality — ‘structural’ — is capable of navigating between a variety of subjective views because it is operating in more dimensions than they are.

It has, therefore, become a tool for consultants that is becoming more and more used. The master of facilitation can be said to work in ‘unitive energy’, which has been called by Patrick de Mare koinonia or impersonal fellowship (also see later). This fellowship is more than a feeling since it engages the capacity to see the ‘sameness’ in diverse views.

Meditation

Meditation is mental concentration and this can be greatly facilitated by the technique applied by a single person to examine his or her own thoughts. We are used to relying on the ‘screen of the mind’ — the sensitive energy according to Bennett — to display to ourselves what we are thinking, assisted perhaps by writing things down. Structural communication provides a complex mode of display that enables us to see more of our thinking at any one time than is possible by either — internal or external - of these means. We could also say that structural communication goes some way towards displaying the holistic or right-brained view of things.

There are single-user forms of magnetic hexagons by which we can write down what we know and then examine the meaning of combinations and connections of what we know. Being able to do this in a two-dimensional way is a great advance.

TECHNOLOGY AND APPLICATIONS

Systemaster

The engagement of structural communication with information technology began in the early days. Working in collaboration with the then GEEC company, an electro-mechanical device called the Systemaster was invented. This was in an era before the pocket calculator and well before the wide-spread use of PCs. The Systemaster machine could be ‘programmed’ to search for inclusions and exclusions in the student’s response. This response was made by keying in the numbers (1 to 20) attached to the MMs. This enabled the information handled by the machine to be very simple, involving only these numbers and not the content of the MMs themselves. Needless to say, the device was cumbersome and far from user-friendly and never came into use.

Internet

In the year 2000, structural communication was adapted by Jason Joslyn (in collaboration with Anthony Blake) for use on the Web through the technologue developed by him. By this time, the technique of using magnetic hexagons had acquired its own software (one version is called Visual Concept). This was partly driven by the wish to have a permanent record of the structures evolved during discussions. It was also needed for people wishing to follow up an investigation with each other at a distance.

Organisation

The full application of the original system is eminently suited for highly structured subject matter in which a variety of modes of understanding have come to be accepted. It is less suited to a free exchange of views. The kind of ‘random’ exchange that manifests over the Internet does not encourage the reflective and co-operative work of establishing a common language. It is not impossible, only very difficult. Work is in progress to realise this potential.

The organisation of knowledge has become a burning issue. Structural communication affords a way of communicating in depth that lends itself to this work

Systematics

Here, structural communication links with systematics (see the separate article under that name). In systematics, we strive to make clear which system we are working in. A system is defined by means of the number of terms of which it is composed. One person may be concerned with relationships — and hence the triad — while another may be concerned with order — and hence the tetrad, and so on. If they do not know what each other is about, they can mis-communicate. However, if they are working with a common set of MMs it is readily apparent whether they are working in triads, tetrads or whatever because they are selecting three MMs or four MMs respectively.

Texts

Liz Borreden - also a one time student of John Bennett — has produced a pioneering piece of work by using a software based on the technique of using magnetic hexagons to analyse the structures of meaning in a book on ‘mentoring’. Her conclusions make use of triads and it is clearly visible what her intentions and modes of thought are. This has led us to suppose that we might consider writing books in a form of structural communication right from the start. Such a ‘book’ could then become available on the web in suitable form. It would fulfil the now largely lost promise of hypertext.

All such techniques are artificial means made necessary by the fact that we are incapable of sustaining reading on the conscious level. It is significant that most people find the suggestion that they cannot read offensive. Because of this, they will tend to refuse to adopt the disciplines offered and reject them as unnecessary and confining. Such reactions are typical of the sensitive level. New methods are only adopted by people who have seen that they are needed.

Logovisual Technology

The various ventures that have stemmed from the early days of structural communication have now converged into the realisation of a diverse genus or method called logovisual technology.

The idea of logovisual technology has emerged out of a collaboration between Anthony Blake and John Varney, Director of the Centre for Management Creativity (CMC) We have come to realise that there is a whole genus of methods and inventions, inclusive of such CMC products as MagNotes, and ranging beyond them. We think the recognition of this genus of methodology is important and will serve to accelerate and spread the use of such methods. Most significantly, it might enable practitioners in different fields to see what they have in common and managers to understand that there is a shift in our working language and culture taking place.

The term 'logovisual' refers to 'meanings made visible'. Logovisual technology is anything that puts meanings on display so that they can be handled. The technology can be based on very simple means - such as the ubiquitous post-its - but it can extend into use of computer software. Such technologies are now being introduced as part of such methods as TRIZ, mind-mapping, problem-based learning, Metaplan, scenario planning, structural communication, and so on and involve artefacts such as post-its, MagNotes and Visual Concept software.

The essential features of logovisual technology are easy to define:

1. Thoughts are turned into tangible objects

2. These objects can be displayed and manipulated on surfaces

3. They can be combined, grouped, clustered, ordered or otherwise arranged to reveal or express patterns

We call 'thoughts turned into objects' molecules of meaning or MMs for short. The pronunciation of MM - as 'emem' - turns out to be the reverse of meme, which is the technical term for a unit of meaning as in meme theory. Turning a problem, a situation, a topic, an issue, or whatever into a set of MMs is the first crucial step. The set of 'molecules' can then be selected from to build into more complex wholes.

Imagine a board full of MagNotes - magnetic backed hexagons written on. This is like a 'knowledge soup' and can be drawn upon to make new kinds of knowledge. If a group has assembled the MMs, then it also constitutes their common language. Though they might continue to talk and associate ideas together, this is accompanied by and represented in the common language by moving, assembling and structuring MMs - making the thinking visible. The term 'knowledge soup' suggests the metaphor of amino acids that can be assembled into specific purpose proteins. It is highly significant that some recent trends in computing science are towards physical biological processes and away from software programming in the old sense.

Having the MMs on display, so that they can be seen and handled, makes it easier to look for patterns. MMs fit together as 'opposite trends', 'relationships, 'machines', 'cycles', 'structures' and so on. Combinations of MMs can be used to capture new insights, diagnoses, designs, etc.

Logovisual technology optimally involves 'multiboarding' - the use of three or more distinct display surfaces. These fulfil the following roles:

1. Stores and displays the knowledge soup: the common language, the pieces of the game play, the molecules of meaning.

2. Brings selections from the knowledge soup into conjunction as systems of meaning, or more complex wholes, as the investigation, working process or game unfolds.

3. Displays and records the synthesis of systems, providing links with supporting documentation and illustration.

Board 2 can provide a ‘game arena’ allowing for the unfolding of a space of contention, with contrasting views. Board 3 then represents a higher space of synthesis, in which contention is resolved in co-operation.

The metaphor of a 'game' is used because the MMs are just like pieces in a board game. In a single-boarded version of logovisual technology, the MM pieces can be arranged around the periphery of a white board and 'brought into play' by different people making different selections and combinations to make their point in the centre region. The interesting thing is that we can move from the more usual competitive mode to a co-operative one.

Logovisual technology is here to stay and will become more and more widely accepted as it enters into everyday working practice. It need not be tied to any one specific method because it is a tool or medium for people to use as they need just as pen and paper might be. However, it promises a step in mutual understanding, because the very 'shape' and construction of our ideas can begin to be made visible to each other.

The idea of logovisual technology is reflecting back into computer-based applications, where we are looking for ways of applying technologue to allow for the colouring of MMs to simulate the physical operations experienced by handling the more tangible pieces such as MagNotes.

Logovisual Logosphere

 

OTHER REFLECTIONS

Dialogue

It is more than curious that the number of MMs we came to use - about twenty — is identical with the optimum number — according to Patrick de Mare - for a median group. The size of such a group is determined by the requirement that everyone can see all the others and be able to say something within the span of an hour or so. In the same way, the array of MMs is such that a ‘reader’ going through the structural communication process can at least ‘feel’ the mutual relevance of every one of them with every one of the others.

As in the dialogue process of the median group, the mutualities of the MMs break up into smaller sub-sets, dealt with one after another. Still it is just possible to attain a sense of the whole. This is because we allow consciousness to come into play. There has to be an alert relaxation and atmosphere of trust.

Public Forum

An application of logovisual technology, in the form of hexagonal post-it notes, is being tried out in Burma. People get together to discuss issues based on arrays of MMs that can utilise any available surface — even curtains! In this application, we are seeing something of the same nature as the public display systems adopted, for example, in China, where available boards in parks or other public spaces can be used by the polis to post ideas and formulations.

The idea of the ‘public space’ or ‘forum’ is well known but it gains considerably by having a suitable technology that allows people to display MMs and arrange them in patterns. The simple means of having tangible MMs that can be moved around makes a great difference.

Mentalities

Structural communication may be nothing new, only a creative revival of something that was widely prevalent amongst the learned centuries ago. In our present age, education has sunk to such low levels that it is rare to find any example of structural communication in it. In management circles, also in the 60’s, Chris Argyris produced an important paper in the Harvard Business Review outlining his conception of four modes of thought:

1. Black and white mentality. There is only true and false, right and wrong.

2. Gradated mentality. There are greys of more or less true, more or less right.

3. Relative mentality. My view is mine and yours is yours and stem from our subjectivity.

4. Structural mentality. We can navigate from view point to view point through understanding.

In this scheme, mentalities 1 and 2 refer to the automatic and sensitive levels, while mentalities 3 and 4 refer to the conscious and creative levels. Needless to say, it is only the fourth kind of mentality that feels at home with structural communication! This raises the question of how it is possible to bring at least some of its wealth to people who seem to lack this fourth kind?

Art

Even when we do not have clearly discrete units in the ‘language’ the same principles apply. Think, for example, of a good painting. Though this cannot be crudely divided into different parts, nevertheless there is a sense in which we feel every feature of it as relevant to every other. Thus the good painting forms a whole. The same applies to a good piece of music, or to a poem.

There is no reason to reject structure in art, though this has been obscured in the present commercial climate of the art world. If we go back to ancient and sacred texts, recent studies have shown that they are highly structured, usually composed of twelve to twenty ‘verses’ or parts, strongly cross-connected with each other. Simon Weightman, another student of John Bennett, is currently showing that such a structure exists in the great poem of Rumi called the Mathnawi. The superficial audience will only register the text in a linear order. A more sophisticated one — ‘in the know’ — will also register the inner connectivities — that is, in depth.

Thinking in Process

Once one is used to a logovisual medium, it can become a natural part of any discussion or investigation. In this mode, all that is entailed in the construction and execution of the original structural communication method is brought into play. What emerges is a complementary mode of thinking in which the discrete — MMs — is combined with the continuous — the flow of talking. In scientific circles, it is common to have both equations and free discourse combined together. The equations are like MMs — and it is apparent that such MMs are selected, brought into play, combined and altered as the conversation evolves. It can be all-important to be able to register the various stages in the conversation as insights are brought to expression and given form.

The dual-level nature of scientific conversation gives it its power. The conversation is anchored on definitive elements of meaning that are understood by all involved and give it a common base. It is now being understood that this dual-level structure is the key to creative collaboration.

Naturally enough, this ‘thinking in process’ — even though it can be conducted on table napkins! - is best served by having a number of boards that allow for different spaces of work. Whole rooms can be designed to allow for complex conversations, including having available PCs for the expedient recording of significant stages in the discussion.

Even without PCs (and appropriate software) the very nature of the display of MMs facilitates memory of significant ideas. It is being found that the bare memory of a significant combination can serve to remind the participants of what they were thinking in making it. This is much more effective than trying to remember what was said in the course of the conversation. We can therefore claim that logovisual technology is making a new contribution to the recording of ideas. It is useful to note that this facility resonates with the practice, centuries ago, of the art of memory.

ILLUSTRATIVE MATERIAL

A. A Simple Example

To illustrate the basic method, we will take some single words, all of the same kind, as our MMs and see what they can mean in combination. These MMs are possible answers to the question: What are the basic actions that make us what we are? This gives us our monad to use a term from systematics, the world of our discourse.

The question by which we generate the MMs can be called the ‘zeroth question’!

Other questions draw out sub-sets to represent the ‘hidden’ organisation and meaning of the MMs.

Communicating Moving Breathing Stilling
Seeing Sensing Expressing Relaxing
Caring Blending Sustaining Knowing
Attending Visualising Stopping Making

We can now examine these in sub-sets to bring out the implicit structures of meaning that are enfolded in them — to use David Bohm’s terminology — by means of a set of further questions.

1. What reflects ‘awareness in action’? The essential factors form a triad:

Moving
Sensing Visualising

This applies when we are simply activating our own bodies. Another triadic interpretation:

Making
Knowing Seeing

when we are concerned with interacting with the world around us. We can see at once that the two interpretations correspond to each other (they are arranged to show this) and that seeing and visualising are linked, as are knowing and sensing.

2. What are the key factors in participating in dialogue? There is a basic three-term system lurking here:

Communicating
Caring Expressing

Communication as in dialogue requires the combination of both caring for others and the power of expressing oneself.

3. How can I ‘suspend time’? Since this refers to something that is sustained, it is likely to be a tetrad, thus:

Attending
Breathing Sustaining
Stopping

There is an exercise in which I bring my attention into my breathing and sustain it. This can lead to the experience of time stopping. The breath is not stopped, but any sense of change is.

4. How can I build up an inner energy for my being? Again, this could be a four-term system, such as:

Stilling
Relaxing Blending
Making

If I bring myself into a stillness and blend different energies in the containment of this stillness, then they make a new substance that ‘feeds my being’ or my inner life.

The illustration is worked out in a simplistic way, and we do not provide any ‘corrective’ diagnostics for less than optimal responses (or selections of sub-sets). Neither do the groupings we exhibit overlap very much. In a more developed version, the meaning of these sixteen words would be expounded upon and the ground prepared for considering such questions. However, what we have shown should be enough to give you some idea of how structural communication works. It should be easily seen how this method gives depth to a communication. Even when the reader may not be at all sure about what the author intends, the structure is rich enough to evoke corresponding experiences in him or her and lead them into an active contemplation of them.

 

B. Complexity in the MMs

In our simple example, the MMs or elements of the array were just single words. They can be far more complex. Here are four of the MMs that were used in a structural communication text on Thermal Physics, to illustrate the point:

the number of antinodes in the range u to u+du is 8pu2du/c3 fluctuations of energy spectrum of ionized gas a coloured surface often emits its complementary colour when heated

The array contained statements, definitions and equations. However, in this universe of discourse, all could be taken as on the same level. With such richly informative MMs, it was possible to discuss, for example, how the photoelectric effect could be explained in terms of quantum mechanics. The student could have the direct experience of adding ideas together to make a greater whole. This was the kind of thing foremost in Leibniz’s ‘Universal Calculus’ (see brief mention in article on Systematics).

Even more complex MMs could be used. For example, in reviewing ‘The Foundations of Wittgenstein’s Philosophy’ by Ernst Konrad Specht, we used an array composed of twenty statements from Wittgenstein’s own writings (in the journal Systematics Vol. 7, No. 2). We give some of them here (together with their numbers — see the comment above on the Systemaster machine) to illustrate what we mean.

1. Is it even an advantage to replace an indistinct picture by a distinct one? Isn’t the indistinct one often exactly what we need? 6. The ostensive definition explains the use — the meaning — of the word when the overall role of the words in the language is clear. 19. . . . if things were quite different from what they actually are . . . this would make our normal language-games lose their point.

The reader was invited to do such things as find the subset [of statements from the array] which illustrates Wittgenstein’s criticism of the atomic view. He or she could then compare his assessment with Specht’s through a series of diagnostics and also receive further commentary from another view than Specht’s.

The more complex the MMs, the more subtle the interpretation of their combinations. This example shows how structural communication is very much the same as reading at a conscious level.

C. Example based on this article

We can reflect on the ideas and experiences expressed in this very article by means of a structural communication approach. We will keep the MMs fairly simple. Of course, the selection of the MMs for the array is somewhat arbitrary since we have no specific target audience. The rows and columns of the array do not signify any order of connection between the MMs. As we said at the beginning, their arrangement is deliberately random.

The linear order of the text is followed by the ‘zero’ order of the array, and the process of structural communication then reveals the integrative order of the meaning of the text. We will not provide actual diagnostic test but some sets of inclusion and exclusion from which they would be made.

1. Intention of communication
2. Subsets of the array
3. Modelling
4. Meaning in depth
5. Suspension of reaction
6. Number systems
7. Common language
8. Computer simulation
9. Group discussion
10. Consciousness evoked through challenge
11. Interpretation
12. Works of art
13. Points of view
14. Atomic or molecular nature of MMs
15. Reading with understanding
16. [True] dialogue process
17. Creativity
18. Levels of mental operation [energies]
19. Physical movement of the MMs
20. Equi-value of all MMs

in the array

Question: How can structural communication accommodate a variety of points of view?

Essential technical points: 2 + 7 + 20 these form a group of ideas that underpin the technique

Ancillary points: 6 + 14 refer to the example of different people using different number systems

Relevant points: 5, 9, 16 these are MMs that refer to the kind of process involved

Misunderstanding: 1, 8, 12, or 19 show the point of the question has not been grasped

Irrelevant points: 3, 4, 10, 12 etc.

Question: What is the rationale for structural communication?

Essential points: 4 + 5 + 10 + 15 + 18 it is to enable people to read with understanding through a challenge that evokes consciousness and in the suspension of reaction

Misunderstanding: 8, 12, 19

Etc.

D. User-interface

The ‘student’ has to make a response in terms of selecting a sub-set from the array of MMs that can then be compared with some prepared tests. How he or she does this depends on the medium and technology involved. The student can:

1. write down his or her selection in full on paper and then have it compared with the standard tests

2. he or she may arrange MMs on a magnetic board, visible to all

3. given a key board for input, he or she can simply enter the numbers of the MMs selected

4. given PC capability, he or she can simply click on MMs appearing on the screen and then press enter for an evaluation

We are at present researching into the use of colour differentiation to represent a full response to a question. Instead of simply selecting a sub-set of MMs, each one of them is given one out of four or five colours, which represent ++, +, neutral, -, and - - values.

Sketch of MagNotes Applications

1. Order. The MMs are sorted into a linear sequence

 

 

2. Grouping. The MMs are arranged in clusters according to their affinities

 

 

 

3. Radiation. This arrangement is involved in the very production of the MMs in the first place. It includes and extends the Mind-Mapping of Tony Buzan.

  

 

4. Argument. The hexagons are placed around the edge of the board and then brought forward into the central region according to a dialectical process.

 

 

5. Conversation. Again involved in the production of the molecules, this is a stepwise process that operates in two dimensions in an associative grid.

 

 

6. Systems. MMs are arranged according to system ‘templates’ of meaning.

 

 

Overview

The original venture of structural communication gave way to the invention of more open-ended techniques and has, in recent years, metamorphosed into logovisual technology. This is more of a medium of thinking rather than any set method. Anyone who recognises the need to work at mutual understanding and co-operation can now appreciate the value of this new medium.

A shift in the paradigm of structural communication has come about. Instead of taking the ideal case of the tutor and the small group, we are more into picturing it as a creative game. The physical aspect of logovisual technology has come to the fore. There is even work being done on making the computer interface more physical, so that the concrete movements made by people using MagNotes can be simulated in using a PC.

The medium is also being explored as an aid to more effective conversation through email. Email exchange is bedevilled by excess of words and the problem of keeping track of diverse and divergent lines of thought. The indications are that once people have experienced the facility offered them by the discipline of MMs and display in patterns, they can rapidly become adroit in this new medium and use it as a matter of course in conducting ‘conscious conversations’. Research is being done into how to facilitate this in the email domain.

The new units of meaning made by combining MMs are called ‘toponomes’. The word ‘toponomics’ means the ‘rules of arrangement’. A toponome is a combination of MMs that shows a pattern of meaning. The concept draws heavily on our sister discipline of systematics. Once acquired as a practice that has become natural and easy, the use of toponomes becomes a familiar part of language. It is a part that encourages a perception of wholeness and resonates with what has been considered as ‘sacred geometry’.

 

The original structural communication research was documented in the journal Systematics Vol. 4 no. 4 and Vol. 5 no. 3 in 1967. From this work, a series of structural communication textbooks were published on topics including organic chemistry, Tudor history and Thermal Physics. These ‘study units’ were extensively tested in schools. Samples of some of them are to be found on www.toponome.net. Management case studies put into structural communication form by Tony Hodgson were published in the Harvard Business Review.

Magnetic hexagons and boards may be obtained from ‘Inspiration Resources’, CMC — go to www.cmcsite.com Inspiration Resources also provide an equivalent software called ‘Visual Concept’. CMC is a management consultancy and network developed by John Varney, yet another student of John Bennett. In preparation is a Handbook to Logovisual Technology by Anthony Blake.


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