Hands up all those who read or have read science fiction? I was an avid reader of science fiction in my youth, particularly of the “Golden Age” writers, including: Harry Harrison, Norman Spinrad, E.E. “Doc” SmithFrank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Michael Moorcock, Isaac Asimov, and above all A.E. van Vogt.

In some strange way, these authors and their works helped me make sense of a chaotic youth, and laid some foundations for my future.

The most enduring of these influences was, and is, A.E. van Vogt and his Null-A series. In these books, van Vogt explores meta-systems, and in particular Alfred Korzybski‘s General Semantics, through the adventures of his aptronymous hero Gilbert Gosseyn.

“…he’s at least as great a man as Einstein. At least – because his field is broader. The same kind of work that Einstein did, the same kind of work, using the same methods; but in a much broader field, much more close to human relationships.”

~ Heinlein on Korzybski


For me, one of the core differences between, on the one hand Adhoc and Analytic mindsets, and on the other Synergistic and Chaordic mindsets (see: The Marshall Model), is the kind of logic at work (sic). The former seem to use Aristotelian logic exclusively (on those occasions where logic is used at all), whilst the latter appear to favour some form of Non- Aristotelian logic.

What Does it All Mean?

I’m sure I don’t know. But I suspect the inclination of some folks (and by extension, organisations) to think in black-and-white, zeroes-and-ones terms (cf. Aristotle, Newton, Euclid, etc.), and others to (sometimes) think in probabilistic, many-shades-of-grey terms (cf. Leibnitz, Bayes, Keynes, Zadeh, Cox, Prigogine, etc.) has something to do with it (the ‘it’ here being organisational effectiveness).

“Had Aristotle been a bit smarter, we could have saved a few thousand years of muddle by doing logic the proper way from the beginning.”

~ Mike Alder

What do you think?

– Bob

Further Reading

The World of Null-A ~ A.E. van Vogt
The Pawns of Null-A ~ A.E. van Vogt (a.k.a. The Players of Null-A)
Null-A Three ~ A.E. van Vogt
Aristotelian and Non-Aristotelian Logic ~ Gotthard Günther
An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems ~ Ben Hauck
Fuzzy Thinking ~ Bart Kosko
Non-Aristotelian Logic in Practice ~ Mike Alder (Excellent)
Probability Theory: The Logic of Science ~ Ed Jaynes (‘Unfinished’ online version)

  1. I think this describes one of the really key distinctions and core properties of rightshifting.
    I often frame this as increasing your tolerance for ambiguity & learning to harness & leverage it for overall better outcomes. Becoming at ease with distributions & probabilities in many ways is also the key to understanding Deming’s 95% and helps us be comfortable with outcomes varying for reasons outside our control.

  2. I am working on A Defense of Ambiguity right now! 🙂

    Goals are a funny thing… Not knowing, but being capable of moving forward, using “ignorance preserving” statements (ones that don’t assert to know what we don’t know) is a challenging task.

    I think ambiguity (not vagueness) allows for us to take action in the face of uncertainty, clearly defining what we know while allowing for broad areas of possibility to be explored by diverse and independent experience based perspectives.

    Organizations that over focus on alignment and goals (at least in cases when they are trying to innovate) encourage or worse force, premature convergence on suboptimal results.

    Obviously still working on the language…

  3. Interesting the references to Science (Fiction). On one hand we have the QED Probabilities and on the other the more finite macro world. Organizational effectiveness (I believe) is also highly effected by leadership’s Tactical or Strategic thinking. In organizations lead by strategic thinkers, I see more of the probabilistic with a great deal of trust. The more tactical an organization’s leadership is, the more I tend to see black-and-white with quasi controls in action. As Deming notes, pleasing sound comes from an orchestra group of individuals with a clear picture of the greater goal (music).

    I think rightshifting and in particular organizational effectiveness have a great deal to do with trust, trust of the probability of a desirable outcome based on a clear vision. Add a dash of logic in there so that we take sound risks and we tend to see greater potentials.

    I tend to trust “facts” more akin to Feynman though (test them yourself for good measure). So in that sense I see a nice mixture of trusting probability outcomes along with black-and-white (or even anecdotal) evidence.

    In the end this is really about how we trust and levels of trust.

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