Friday, 13 July 2012

What is a theory?

I love theory. That's why I love cybernetics. But theory brings it's problems. I want to be right about my  theory. And my theory (which is right) confounds other theories which are wrong. "And it's mine." I'm paraphrasing from the Monty Python sketch about this: Anne Elk's Theory about the Brontosaurus...

Why are we driven to create theory? Do we need it? Whilst we might talk about a search for truth, we also know that truth is to be found by coming to know each other. And coming to know each other is not achieved by trying to convince everyone that my theory is right (because everyone else's theories are right to them!)

I'm thinking about a definition of theory. This is a theory about theory... I want to be right about this...(!) But before I get into the recursion of that, here is the theory of theory that I am thinking about (and it's mine!):
Theory is an epiphenomenon of an attempt to act well
In other words, I do not set out to create a theory; I set out to act well. Theory is a side-effect. But if I act really well, and the product is increased love of one another and increased knowledge, there is no need for anything more; no need for theory. That leads me to a correction of my definition:
Theory is an epiphenomenon of a failed attempt to act well
Now let's deal with the recursion. My theorising is a side-effect of an attempt to act well. My well-intentioned action also leads to my current theory about theory. This action is intended to focus on love and action rather than theory. Yet the action is only partially successful: new theory is the result.

Of course, theory is only really theory if it is articulated (in an academic conference for example). The articulation of a theory is a failed attempt to act well. But less unsuccessful actions can avoid explicit articulation of  a theory whilst using deep insights (which a theory might try to express) to cause change to happen in other ways. I think powerful questioning is one of the best ways of doing this.

Powerful questioning requires insight, humanity and love. It causes deep reflection and the overcoming of barriers. Its expression is open; its effect is social. The insight, humanity and love never needs to be expressed as theory because it is powerful action in its own right.

So what would I do if I were not to produce a theory of theory? Psychotherapist Graham Barnes, who gave a wonderful talk at the American Society for Cybernetics today, has given me a response. Or rather, a question. It is:
"Is my world loving?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mark, this us Eva from Cologne, I love this theory, because it ends with a question that only action can answer. Good move. Greetings to Astrid, best Eva