Tom: I suspect that most people will not see dialogue as a science but rather as an art in common experience. Human beings seem to be hard-wired for dialogue. It seems easy to see how dialogue plays a role in the sciences but how did dialogue itself become a science?
Aleco: The contemporary world is like the river of the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus who said: "You can not step in the same river twice." The way that we step into the river defines the river for us at the time we step in it. Dialogue became a science when re recognized that different observers have different ways of stepping into that river and that we can select and refine the way that we approach the river as a community of stakeholders. Yes, we do use conversations and discussions in all aspects of daily life, but dialogue is a shared exploration into an unfamiliar river, and this is a specialized aspect of communication. Our methods of inquiry represent a science that lies beneath and supports all of the ways that we collectively construct observations. Dialogue is the infrastructure – a word that means ‘beneath the structure’ – for all of our collective learning. Dialogue science is a science for learning how to learn together. It is a very deep and inclusive science and it has come of age with the recognition of three major phases in the way that we construct observations and consensual understandings.
First Phase science considered learning as a matter of observing phenomena which are understood to be independent of the observer. In other words, an observers seeing an apple falling from a tree in ancient Athens, Greece in 500 BC, will report the same phenomenon as an observer seeing an apple falling from a tree in New York, today. It was a science deliberately focused on "objectivity" as opposed to "subjectivity." Classical Newtonian physics represents this First Phase science. This science has been dominating the discourse, including policy science, for many generations because of its objectivity and the collection of observer-independent data or what people refer as facts.
Second Phase science considers learning to be shaped by an interaction between an observer and the entity being observed. Anthropologists understand this, as do business managers. The quality of observation is impacted by the presence of an observer within a community, such as the presence of a boss within the staff break room. In medicine, interactions with clinical staff in clinical environments can impact patient responses, including blood pressure. This is called the "white coat phenomenon.” In the physical sciences also, quantum physics recognizes that the observer’s perspective impacts the way that fundamental states are understood. For example, one cannot observe the velocity and the position of a particle at the same time. The Newtonian approach to understanding an unfamiliar river works only in First Phase science phenomena, such as apples falling from trees.
In hindsight it may seem that the leap to recognizing Third Phase science might have been a small step. When a scientist in any discipline makes an observation, that observation is subject to the review of peers within that science – yet the view is not concurrently subjected to the review of scientists in other fields. Why not? The reason is sciences evolve to advance their discipline’s understanding of the world, and this view tends to converge upon the beliefs, tools, and prior understandings accumulated into that specific science discipline. Sciences become silos – they become specialized for viewing the world in accordance with the discipline that they view the world. What happens when a phenomenon transcends disciplinary silos? How do we look at complex situations like global sustainability or even community infrastructure investment? The understanding of the situation changes with the lens that we use to look at it. For this reason, we have come into an age of Third Phase science. As a global community we are learning how to learn together. This phase of science is not a matter of contesting which view is right and which view is wrong. It is a matter of merging understandings at elemental observations and constructing a new understanding which embraces a larger view of the way that the world should operate as a visionary anticipation.
The future is an unfamiliar river the flows through time. When we step into this river, we must step into it together. If we do not use a Third Phase science form of dialogue, we will not construct a sustainable future for all. So Third Phase science is focused on enabling observers to construct superior observations collectively and democratically by employing the science of dialogue.
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