Ingezonden / Letter to the Editor

My chosen handle on the subject is the project/prospect antithesis. The project approach assumes a knowable development that can be extrapolated to form a framework for a future development. The prospective approach recognizes several main tendencies but even more important is human aspiration, the intuitive leap into the future: the world is for the making, as it were. The antithesis runs broadly parallel to the modern/postmodern relationship, and with a bit of imagination to that of exact/intuitive.

Boelens looks for forms that accommodate two approaches. But… that requires a keener analysis of the structure of processes. For as well as introducing ‘the scientific approach’, an all-embracing view of processes requires a dimension of time that corresponds to Bergson’s ‘duration’. In the final analysis, a process is a progression that entails two directions: the causal (pushing) and the teleological (pulling). Seen in this light, a process is not the connection of precisely measurable conditions, but a succession of navigational units, made up of a chosen direction of progress (the ‘alpha’ contribution) and a progress in that direction (the ‘beta’ contribution); as soon as it is relevant, a new direction of progress is chosen in response to the changing outside world.
Only beta contributions can be arithmetically calculated. This navigational progress means that development processes can never be extrapolated. In other words, time does not work as a homogeneous conductor for the development of an object! Nor is it only object processes that are structured in this way (and in even more complex ways); rather than being ordered in beta-structured systems (e.g. mathematics), the kinds of objects are also amenable to being ordered into more alpha-structured systems such as the content of human consciousness. Schematically, the ordering can be described in terms of a series: system, dead matter, living matter, mind (cf. Boulding et al.). Drawing up a prognosis of the future then becomes a matter of repeatedly picking up on the changing trends of evolution as and when they occur. If the object of study is a homogeneous piece of dead matter, the ‘scientific approach’ cannot do much harm and may even result in phenomenal achievements. But if the object also contains life and ‘mind’, alpha correction is in order. All this may seem rather dry and theoretical, but the practical consequences are far-reaching! For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that the process units are in turn part of a more comprehensive system of stages (cf. Koestler among others), and that this structuring demands great caution when drawing up longer-term prognoses. I should just point out that the process structure described here can be termed holistic (in the sense of Smuts’s Holism and Evolution).
A few practical consequences:
a. In light of the above, most of our longer-term plans are shots in the dark. The Betuwe Rail Link is a good example. The preparation of such a shot in the dark only makes sense as an exercise in large-scale design. But does this justify the expense?
b. From a holistic point of view, extrapolation planning for more than a few years ahead is not rational. In ‘anticipating’ process thresholds we will need to develop a resonance skill. Periodical workshops might help here.
c. Generally speaking, the large-scale objects that are the order of the day in our age have an in-built pretension to provide an ongoing answer to a current need that ‘is bound to remain the same’. We shall have to divorce ourselves from this pretension and so make way for more flexible planning.
d. In this context we will have to design large-scale expansion schemes like Vleuten-De Meern less from a conviction of functionality and ’rounding off’. We must try to find a ‘stoppable planning’, such that at any given moment we are left with a fully functional and complete entity. This is also where peripheral interaction comes in.
e. In general more attention should be given to adapting existing buildings than to building new ones.
f. Very briefly, one can argue that for problems of greater complexity than those involving homogeneous dead matter, the system framework of the prevailing ‘scientific approach’ and prevailing computer science is too limited. In principle, therefore, one is dependent on an ‘Integrated Natural System’.