Excerpt: Abstract and Summary (page 260-263), from article originally published in Integral Review, Vol. 2, 2006, pp. 210-268 (58 pages)

Collaborative Knowledge Building and Integral Theory:
On Perspectives, Uncertainty, and Mutual Regard

Tom Murray

Abstract: Uncertainty in knowing and communicating affect all aspects of modern life. Ubiquitous and inevitable uncertainty, including ambiguity and paradox, is particularly salient and important in knowledge building communities. Because knowledge building communities represent and evolve knowledge explicitly, the causes, effects, and approaches to this "epistemological indeterminacy" can be directly addressed in knowledge building practices. Integral theory's approach (including "methodological pluralism") involves accepting and integrating diverse perspectives in ways that transcend and include them. This approach accentuates the problems of epistemological indeterminacy and highlights the general need to deal creatively with it. This article begins with a cursory analysis of textual dialogs among integral theorists, showing that, while integral theory itself points to leading-edge ways of dealing with epistemological indeterminacy, the knowledge building practices of integral theorists, by and large, exhibit the same limitations as traditional intellectual discourses. Yet, due to its values and core methods, the integral theory community is in a unique position to develop novel and more adequate modes of inquiry and dialog. This text explores how epistemological indeterminacy impacts the activities and products of groups engaged in collaborative knowledge building. Approaching the issue from three perspectives--mutual understanding, mutual agreement, and mutual regard--I show the interdependence of those perspectives and ground them in relation to integral theory's concerns. This article proposes three phases of developing constructive alternatives drawn from the knowledge building field: awareness of the phenomena, understanding the phenomena, and offering some tools (and some hope) for dealing with it. Though here I focus on the integral theory community (or communities), the conclusions of the article are meant to be applicable to any knowledge building community, and especially value-oriented groups who see themselves fundamentally as working together to benefit humanity.


Below I summarize the main points of the article in terms of (A) sources of Epistemic Indeterminacy (EI), (B) effects of EI, (C) ethical considerations from EI, and (D) recommendations and tools for dealing with EI.

A. Sources of Epistemological Indeterminacy

Indeterminacy in understanding (interpretation) and agreement (truth or validity) has numerous sources, and dealing with EI requires some level of familiarity with these sources (on the part of leaders or facilitators, if not all participants). The sources of EI include:

The cognitive nature of concepts, claims, and models
Psychological and social sources
Philosophical or truth-related sources

B. Effects of Epistemological Indeterminacy

We have mentioned several direct and indirect effects of EI:

C. Moral/Ethical Factors

Ethical considerations (such as mutual regard) are inextricably woven into processes of building understanding and finding agreement. I showed how understanding, agreement, and regard formed a braided whole, with each element depending on the other. Related points about ethics and affect include:

D. Recommendations for Dealing With Epistemological Indeterminacy

How can an individual or group possibly deal with all of the sources, effects, and factors described above as? The simple answer is that we already do--but (usually) not consciously. In everyday interactions with others who have a different opinion or perspective we intuitively scan for all of these factors and deal with the ones flagged as relevant or critical. This can be demonstrated by noting that if we imagine any one of the factors mentioned existing in the extreme, it would be obvious to most people that there was some uncertainty or ambiguity that needed to be accounted for. What we don't do so much is reflect on how we do this, dialog explicitly about how we do it, work to improve how we do it as individuals, or systematically work to improve how we do it in groups. Each person of course has their own very idiosyncratic approach to dealing with EI, and articulating and dialoging about our (mostly tacit) approaches would be quite difficult. But, we are not starting from scratch with the na´ve intuitions of participants. Rather, in this article I have presented some established philosophical, psychological, and sociological theories as starting points for individual contemplation and/or systematic group consideration.

The article included these recommendations for how groups can deal with EI:

Other recommendations concerned knowledge representation (the structure and content of documents and textual dialogs), including the use of technology to identify, manage, and ameliorate IE.