The Paradox of Latent Pattern Maintenance: The fourth domain that was identified by Parsons is perhaps the most important—and clearly the one which is most closely associated with Parsons. This domain is called latent pattern maintenance. As this rather clumsy name implies, this domain is about conservation. In the case of interpersonal relationships, this domain concerns the conservation or maintenance of deeply-embedded (latent) patterns of behavior, feelings and interpretations in the relationship. Parsons considers this to be the religious function that exists (in some form) in all societies. The associated paradox is profound and the focus on many studies, theories and speculations.
This paradox of latent pattern maintenance concerns the ability of anyone to alter a relationship pattern once it is firmly established. Parsons would suggest that a massive amount of energy in any social system will be diverted to this fourth domain if it is threatened with change (whether this change is good or bad for participants in the system). The paradox resides in the fact that we can fairly easily become aware of this pattern maintenance dynamic (which primarily resides in Quad Four—the “latent’ quality of the domain). Yet, becoming aware of the pattern (bringing it into one of the other three quadrants), doesn’t mean that we can change it. This is the paradox and the often-pessimistic perspective that the British school brings to our understanding of human interactions.
To better understand the nature of the paradoxical self (and in particular the dynamics of latent pattern maintenance) and the complex nature of Quad Four, I will turn to both old and new sources: (1) Rudolph Otto’s numinous, (2) the Jungian identification and description of undifferentiated and unconscious life, (3) recent findings from the cognitive and neurosciences and (4) recent findings from research on the nature of complexity and chaos.
In what some scholars identify as the first “psychological” analysis of religious experiences, Rudolph Otto identified something that he called the “numinous” experience. In his now-classic book, The Idea of the Holy, Otto (1923) creates a new word, “numinous” (from the Latin word “numen” and paralleling the derivation of “ominous” from the word “omen”). Otto (1923, p. 11) writes about a powerful, enthralling experience that is “felt as objective and outside the self.” Otto’s numinous experience is simultaneously awe-some and awe-full. We are enthralled and repelled. We feel powerless in the presence of the numinous, yet seem to gain power (“inspiration”) from participation in its wonderment.
Using more contemporary psychological terms, the boundaries between internal and external locus of control seem to be shattered when one is enmeshed in a numinous experience. The outside enters the inside and the inside is drawn to the outside. We are transported to another domain of experience when listening to a Bach mass or an opera by Mozart or Puccini (depending on our “taste,” i.e. amenability to certain numinous-inducing experiences). The horrible and dreadful images and pictures of gods in primitive cultures continue to enthrall us—leading us to feelings of profound admiration or profound disgust. We view a miracle, in the form of a newborn child or the recovery of a loved one from a life-threatening disease. This leads us to a sense of the numinous. Somehow, a power from outside time or space seems to intervene and lead us to an experience that penetrates and changes (though we don’t know how) our fourth quadrant.1K Club