Jessie Henshaw  -  id at synapse9 d.o.t com 

HDS is a center for research and consulting on patterns of functional design found in complexly organized systems, combining observable implications of physics and natural design, addressing competencies of recognizing thresholds and connecting systems thinking with systems making.


Jessie is an independent physicist and architect who developed a general natural science of systems ecology based on advanced systems science field work and study of the physics principles and patterns of emergent organization and design in nature. She's been proposing fundamental redesigns of the economic system since discovering in the 1970's how to compare the system designs of common natural economies with that of our world economy. Her discovery that you could think of natural systems as working by themselves, and her resulting findings, do not reinforce many popular presumptions... but then also provide better substitutes of more lasting value.

Her innovation resulted in a practical new general scientific method for studying naturally occurring transformations in all kinds of system designs, leading to numerous important findings. One of future importance is a proposed scientific use of Christopher Alexander's "pattern language" technique for developing and recording holistic designs that may enable science to study real individual holistic designs and not just deterministic theory.

One of her key practical findings is about what's going wrong with sustainability, that most standard metrics used, around the world, were unscientifically defined. We inherited and adopted old economic accounting methods w/o study to validate their use. The result is that the impacts of businesses, cities and countries are all treated as being "what is reported" by their accountants. So they are naturally limited to the impacts being managed **inside the reporting boundary the reports are coming from**.

That of course omits the impacts which **activities inside the reporting boundary** have on the rest of the world **outside that reporting boundary**, and so omit by default the identification of the impacts which should be the whole purpose of impact accounting to measure. Her basic science for defining the measures correctly shows the impacts omitted to most often be much larger than those counted. The "Systems Energy Assessment" paper and ”World SDG" proposal to the UN provide strong new accounting standards for measuring the direct economic consequences of our choices, and to offer true global guidance.

Starting from a very general principles, defining natural boundary conditions for "energy systems", her subjects also then include all kinds of both lively natural and intentional organized systems such as organisms, ecologies, cultures, organizations, communities, languages, technologies, weather, etc. Such systems are found to all develop a bit like economies and businesses too, from an initial 'seed' that serves as a pattern of design for the resulting system to develop from. The system then emerges from the seed pattern's process of development, producing one or another kind of 'cell' or 'center' or 'unit' of organization, by accumulative growth in an open environment. Her methods are based on using physics principles as diagnostic tools, addressing systems as forms of organization we study as "natural objects", working by their own designs, not only subject to external forces. So she does not use physics to represent environmental systems with equations, but to help investigate them, considered as self-defined individuals of the environment.

Jessie’s findings are published in a number of research papers, circulated as studies or proposals when participating in organizations and institutional rule making bodies, some under the pen name "P.F. Henshaw", and also in her RNS journal of research notes and in her archive of experiments with natural system research methods. She’s now living in New York City, having grown up in Hamilton NY and getting a 1968 B.S. in physics from St. Lawrence University, followed by some post graduate study in mathematics and a 1974 MFA in architecture, landscape and micro-climate design from the Univ. of Pennsylvania. Her many years of independent research then began when moving to Denver and making her first revolutionary findings studying the natural micro-climates of homes. She has since continued to accumulate a body of useful new work.  

Research Archive –   RNS journal: Reading Nature’s Signals –  
Publication & Resources –   Consulting resume –


To study natural systems one considers them as having developed from usually unnoticed beginnings, by building on the origin pattern of design that starts their development. So they appear to us as “found objects of design” in the environment, recognized by the organization of their parts, and by both how their organization is continually changing and operates within its self-defining organizational boundary.   The lasting rules they follow are very general, such as that their organization is invariably accumulative and built on what went before, by joining opposing shapes generally, and developing by a succession of "non-linear" organizational stages, first building up then building down.  We use our familiar experiences of life as metaphors or examples of these successions of natural design, "pregnancy" corresponding to the explosions of innovation beginning from a tiny seed pattern, and "maturity" as a long process of perfecting what pregnancy creates.   Other patterns of the same succession include how a business start-up always begins with a seed pattern and goes though a period of relatively dangerous radical innovation and development, to spend years refining the service, craft or product being produced.  It's a model that applies to almost any design of life that comes to matter to us, an invasive growth of some pattern in one environment, that then either finds or fails to find a stable set of roles in the discovered environment it grows into.

What makes it a particularly complex subject is the difference between discussing the "temporal processes" and the "spatial designs".  We see them so differently that they need to be discussed in different terms, but understood as connected all along too.    The timeline of natural designs is a story of accumulating innovations that may go back and forth between periods of increasingly radical innovation (the periods of compound growth) and periods of refinement and perfection, of the designs the radical innovations produced.   The familiar occurrence of that is the succession of "graduations" we experience in going through successive stages in learning, requiring alternating radical expansions in thinking and periods of (somewhat) perfecting it.    How the connections of new things build on the starting pattern that form those somewhat predictable successions are what one studies.  It leads to understanding how the working parts work, and are changing.   In general any rule one finds is likely to be temporary, because... it's 'life'.   

The most common reasons for systems to break their own rules is either 1) becoming connected or disconnected from others or 2) changing scale, either getting too big or too small for their prior way of working to work.   The "resilience" of excess duplication in working parts and surplus resources, that all systems need so they can maintain themselves despite unexpected shocks or limits of change, then works to maintain continuity when something has to change, assuming a bridge of new design or resources is found.  So, understanding that we can admire the seemingly magical processes of natural growth and decay and peer into what actually going on, and what the stakes are a bit.  


jlh 1/21/13, 4/9/16, 4/18/16