The Third Wave: What the Tofflers Never Told You

By Czerwinski, Thomas J. | Strategic Forum, April 1996 | Go to article overview

The Third Wave: What the Tofflers Never Told You


Czerwinski, Thomas J., Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Although much of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) debate centers on the notion that the Information Age represents a Third Wave paradigm shift, the Information Age is only one of the components of the Third Wave.

* The Third Wave is marked not by a paradigm shift, but the utter lack of a paradigm.

* Discussions about the RMA (or, as it is increasingly being called, Revolution in Security Affairs, as some call it) should reflect the specific conditions existing in the Third Wave, in this regard, the Tofflers' analysis is incomplete.

The Composition of Waves

It is inevitable that the future will not be determined by the singular, unimpeded triumph of information technology. It is naive to presume that something so epochal as a struggle for a paradigm shift should lack for pretenders and contenders. Indeed there is no shortage of formidable combinations of contending ideas for the Third Wave crown. But what is the arrangement of a wave?

* The first level of any wave is inhabited by technology, artifacts and processes. The economy is central and politics inherent, as are social forms. This is the plane at which Alvin and Heidi Toffler and Peter Drucker ply their craft. Here we subscribe, as they do, to the continuum from an Agrarian Age to an Industrial one to the emergent Information Age.

* The intermediate plane of a wave can be described in essentially cultural terms. The cultural terms Premodernism, Modernism, and Postmodernism apply here, and we subscribe to their context. It is in this region that art, literature, poetry, and philosophy flourish. It is also the den of ideology.

* The third and deepest level of a wave is the foundational. Paradigms originate in this region. A paradigm is the dominant and fundamental way of thinking within a period--how phenomena are perceived and assigned meaning. It is here that the genesis of ideas culminates in outcomes in the other layers. Paradoxically, science, religion, and superstition share this region. Here we subscribe to the Age of Faith, the Age of Reason, and what is provisionally called the Age of Intuition, as a working title.

Waves are parallel, but not coterminous. Nor is a paradigm continuously present within a wave. The following table shows the general arrangement as it applies to the Western world. (This implies there are other stories to be told, but the framework holds as a universal.)

There is no Paradigm Shift

The levels normally interact vertically through a "Principle-Metaphor-Tool bridge." The effect of Newton's discoveries, for example, are portrayed by Gene Edward Veith, Jr., in "bridge-terms" as follows: "With the rise of modern science, which accompanied the industrial revolution (Tool), nature itself began to be seen as a machine (Metaphor). Nature was interpreted as a closed system of cause and effect, which can be totally explained by mathematical and experimental analysis (Principle). Whereas preindustrial human beings confronted nature as a mysterious living organism, the scientists of the Enlightenment reduced nature to a complex but inert mechanism that could be taken apart, rationally understood, and used like any other mechanical device."

James Gleick provided another example: "The Second Law of Thermodynamics has established itself firmly in the non-scientific culture....Any process that converts energy from one form to another must lose some energy as heat (Principle). Perfect efficiency is impossible. The universe is a one-way street" (Metaphor). This principle, known as entropy, has taken on its own intellectual value far removed from science, taking the blame for disintegration of societies, economic decay, the breakdown of manners, and many other variations on the decadence theme" (Tool).

These "secondary, metaphysical incarnations" of scientific thought are metaphors forming bridges or clover leafs linking the levels, transferring ideas formulated as principles at the foundational level to the application layer to become tools, principally through the creative powers of writers, philosophers, and artists. …

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