Yes, quite nice work. I think learning how natural systems develop and change as wholes seems needed too, though. We are often easily confused by how easy it can sometimes be to change the parts of systems we want to change as a whole. Systems generally develop as wholes and change as wholes, though, of course, unless broken up. Learning how to foster whole system change often comes from attempting to engineer some living system, to then see it fail over and over, learning how from experience by deep emersion in the context to understand its needs. That’s often how businesses evolve, by the deep emersion of its people in creating order from the chaos their first attempts cause. That’s still likely to happen, but might be made easier if people studied how actual systems emerge and change.
Real system change is more like the birth of a child, something developing as a whole and emerging as a whole, to then find it has to actively explore and adapt to find its place in the world. That applies to the birth of new ideas for new kinds of organization within a business, for or in a community, or in the world. It always first starts with the germination of its growth, then development and maturation on the way to having a life. Each stage is a unique challenge and experiential learning and growth process. The first creates its insides and then develops its relationships outside, to fit with the environment it emerges into.
What we’re struggling with globally is, of course, moving the world system in a profound and dramatic way. Though it is very different from learning to personally host and guide the birth of innovations in our work to fit their contexts there is a lot about global change we can learn from it. For a global change, we need to recognize first that we are not in control of much at all. Secondly, we need to recognize that systems are systems primarily because they are self-controlled, work as wholes, and though they have flexible parts and do often change by themselves, they really ONLY change as wholes and not by pushes and shoves, but by themselves something like we do.
That’s where it’s useful to study our experience with systems that change by themselves, our groups, friends, communities, selves, and children are things we know a lot about. There are only a few ways an outside approach can help, or hinder. For systems that one is part of one can spread the feeling of the pressures and any useful knowledge of opportunities for a whole to change on its own. There are often places where a developing whole system awareness is not getting through, and different forms of whole system awareness are needed. That is what seems to prepare a system for some sort of inspiration of its own, sometimes called “animal spirits,” that trigger whole system change, in a direction that motivates the whole.
We see it in our own behavior, as with what makes us overcome habits and do something new. It takes deep and ultimately inspiring feelings. If you think about change moments for other things, other words for it might come up, but it’s one or another kind of holistic response to awakening and opportunity. It needn’t be awakening due to growing life-threatening pressures, but we do hope indeed they will help motivate and inspire our world. When the system awakens to the opportunity it triggers the animal spirits to be felt by and move the whole.
Of course, that is IF successful. Let us hope that’s what humanity will have in mind to do as push comes to shove and the terrifying game of “chicken” we keep playing with ourselves, of using power to multiply power as a way of life, finally breaks.
The radical separation of humans from nature, our being so self-absorbed and seeing nature as defined in our heads rather than the other way around, has been a deep mystery for a long time.
My interest in it came from noticing how mathematics became our standard for representing nature but cannot describe or help us study what makes life so lively, the abounding creative processes of nature.
I’m not against math, a fabulous art, that does help us identify certainties, however, our desperate search for certainty is what seems to have betrayed us, splitting our minds between attentiveness and total blindness to our environments, having defined in our minds nature as our rules for how to control nature…
The search for answers in mathematics, the language of determinate relationships that science uses, has proved extraordinarily profitable, leading to growing human comforts that have also taken us to the point of our increasingly destroying the natural world. Our mysterious detachment from nature seems very directly at fault. The animation of life, its rich relationships, and creativity are all left out of the formula when people are guided by determinate rules. It’s something I’ve long studied as a physicist, having first noticed that every event begins and ends with some little dynamic transient of change.
I think part of the problem is that language was actually reflected our first highly useful systems thinking, with all its words and grammar arranged to communicate important experiences, designs, and relationships IN THE NATURAL CONTEXT. Math makes rules abstracted from a natural context, that are most profitable when offering easy ways to control nature without concern for the context. So they work great but pass on no information on when they are being overused. That is as clear in the simple cases and most extreme cases, such as the world consensus plan to maximize our economic growth rate, for regularly doubling the wealth we extract from nature while ignoring its rapidly degrading impacts on nature, called “externalities.”
But who is it that is blind to what, and how in the world do we face an existential dilemma evidently buried so deep in human consciousness?
Finding the right path forward
We see humanity’s deeply split personality, generous and playful as well as obsessed with expanding our control of the world but need to find its source. Then we will finally begin to make progress, to slowly dig our way out of the terror our powerful minds seem to have created for us. Somehow we allowed our truly wondrous designs to create a new world of enormous cruelty, following their promise of relieving nature’s cruelty. That’s definitely happening, and definitely not good.
One of the paths to a cure could come from studying the differences between how people behave in one or the other way. We might then cure the blind way of abusing our powers by restoring the principles of staying in touch with environmental contexts. The direct approach, helping others immerse themselves in the natural environments they are in trouble with, works great using an experienced teacher. The living systems scientist like Ostrom or Midgley do it by lead communities through a process of exposure to how their worlds work, leading to their making much better choices.
As parents we also talk to our kids that way too, helping them to understand problems of insensitivity to others. Every good family does that, but the children still grow up to follow the rules of maximizing growing profits and ignoring the economy’s ever-growing impacts. That very clearly defines the split between how people behave in familiar contexts, where they can feel the strains on relationships, and in the public sphere where they don’t. In the public sphere rules for profit give people only feelings of self-interest and blind them entirely to the enormous building strains in the wider world’s relationships.
I’m not saying that is the only strong force causing humanity’s spiritual separation from life, but one we can see plainly enough to realize we very much need to act on it, despite the difficulty of communication that recognizing errors in our plans naturally creates.
Modern society presents other special problems of communication too, confronting us with thousands of self-serving silos of narrow beliefs, personal, social, religious, national, professional. I look at them all as “cultures,” the “cells of knowledge” we build to guide us on how to think, work, live, and talk to give us some local sense of security in a confusing world. Cultures are also a saving grace as well as a way to divide us, given how most are deeply rooted in what worked in the past, with authentic copies passed on from generation to generation.
Of course, individual people have individual saving graces too, to use in helping us climb out of the trap we find ourselves in. Some have vision, steady hands, charisma, moral clarity, persistence, or wonderful person-to-person good hearts. Those don’t come from theories of control, that betray our powerful minds. They come from the opposite, from our loves and cares largely cut out of the public sphere by the rules we blindly follow. Saving graces in our institutions seem harder to find. We mostly built them around ideas of expanding control or being funded by it, not on learning how to make free associations work well.
What it seems we need to rely on is family culture and their central one for all and all for one life agreement. I’d include in that both the home and work families we center our lives on, which generally make us acutely aware of the non-verbal as well as verbal cues indicating openings and strains on our relationships. That is the very kind of environmental awareness that enables our personal and family survival instincts.
That is what seems most missing from the public sphere institutions, seemingly blinded by following abstract rules rather than navigating relationships with the world. It’s not even that the world doesn’t act as a whole. It certainly can and does, as you see in the effect of managing a global economy to work as a whole. To feel where the world is going, and change our collective steering, we’d need to count all the global strains we have not been counting.
Also part of the path of discovery, The apparent Bronze Age roles of Hestia and Hermes
In terms of the ancient Greek history of our split consciousness marked by the emergence of modern science, between family order and societal order, I’m suggesting the one could come to the rescue of the other. The foundations of close-knit family and group life are still strong and seem to be, in turn, the foundations of all human societies too. So they’d be a healthy source of unified environmental rules that might communicate with societal institutions, and teach them how to see, by feeling their effects on their environments, reviving their instincts of wellness and survival. In Greek terms, it would be home life created in the early Aegean hearth home, the “Oikos” coming to the rescue of the “Polus.”
An opening came from distinguished Lehman College home science professor Pat Thompson. She found a way to reconstruct revisionist histories from what they disparage what they are replacing, exposing the enduring Aegean Bronze Age culture,
One of the great turning points was the dawn of Greek science, with Thales, the first modern scientist, an Ionian trader who showed how to use math to make a fortune, set the new model. The idea of nature controlled by abstract concepts flourished and floundered ever after.
At the same time, the new science culture proudly banished the earlier 2500 yr Aegean science of hearth and home, that our own family lives as centers with connection come from, associated with Hestia and Hermes, the first and only humble Greek gods.
The research leading to this came from Pat Thompson’s discovery of how to reconstruct revisionist histories and retracing the highly distinctive archeology of the Bronze Age Aegean hearth-home’s need for columns, leading to Greek architecture!
As a postscript — the problem with the great “centers with connections” of modern commerce is their being attuned to abstract principles of environmental and societal control, natural patterns taken out of context that blind us to the “externalities” of seeking limitless power!
More on the research is in my old notes on the Hestia connection called Hestia’s New World.
Without thinking we use natural growth for many common tasks already, simply by starting things to finishing them with a minimum of waste. In each case you “save the world” from needless excess consumptive growth in getting things started, wasting your efforts and the earth’s other natural and human resources.
Every kind of life, and kind of effort too, begins with building up a system of demands for available resources, to further expand on what built up before.
That expansion by building on what was built is the universal start-up process of nature, also sometimes called “extractive growth.” You see it very clearly in every kind of start-up, of a new friendship, a business, a career, a seedling or a life from a fertilized egg. The all start with steps that build up from what was built before. The build up that making breakfast starts with, for example, begins with the idea of food that makes you hungry, that then gets you to reach into the cupboard, and refrigerator for supplies, and the drawer or shelf for utensils, building a customized system and supplies for making your meal.
That process could go wrong, the way mankind’s way of using technology to multiply our making of things on earth exploded, and we now don’t seem to know how to stop. In making breakfast it might similarly go wrong if you got carried away taking out provisions. You might start with a small idea of what you need from the fridge, and add to that bigger ideas as you explore what there is to take out, repeating it to exhaustion perhaps, till the fridge and cupboards, pantry, and cellar, are emptied and all the family’s provisions in reach are mounded on the kitchen and dining-area floor, as you get hungrier and hungrier and your eyes expand way beyond the limit of your stomach, putting nearly all the family’s provisions to waste. The particular outcome is rare, but it is very true that once you get going with growing a process of growing, the process itself can become addictive. Today we clearly see in how we are wasting the earth in somewhat the same way, and love to be moved to tears and laughter by watching Disney’s Fantasia when Mickey Mouse learns turn his chores over to his broom with a magic spell, which gets tragically carried away carrying water.
starting things to finish them with a minimum of waste
Of course, we don’t usually behave that way at all, but at some point near the beginning of taking out provisions to use, switch to thinking about how to get to end of having a satisfying meal. We almost never have the exact end in mind either, but perhaps initially take out eggs and cheese to perhaps put them back and take out bread for toast and milk for cereal if you’re in a hurry. As you put things together you also do various smaller and smaller things you discover to do, to perfect the end result while also arranging the timing to get all the parts to come together at once, with excess provisions put away, all part of getting ready to sit down, perhaps with together with others in the family.
In doing that, rather than letting the initial provisioning of breakfast get carried away, we have “USED NATURAL GROWTH TO SAVE THE WORLD,” most often without really realizing what an enormous contribution to the community and your family was done by simply not maximizing the waste of all available provisions in the process of making breakfast. Of course, it’s also important to do and to watch for in other circumstances, a natural duty for living in a commons.
It seems like a little thing but is actually a very big thing, that we casually do for ourselves and others many times every day
that we casually do for ourselves and others many times every day
People are plenty smart enough to see that this “RULE OF NATURAL GROWTH” (also called “nature’s integral“), to finish up what you’ve started up doing before you make a mess for yourself and others, should also apply to civilization as a whole, and at every scale in-between. People do see that ALL development creates disaster risks, for example, and that boundless development would always creates an all-consuming disaster. Our minds still “get in the way” somehow, transfixed by fantasies it seems, and we just trundle along on the clear path to that all consuming disaster not knowing what else to do.
How this would save the world is really something quite plausible. We already see in progress a great “change of heart” by businesses and investors around the world to join in on averting the clearly disastrous future now directly ahead of us. If that initiates a wave of common sense, with business and investors choosing to follow the wave of the “impact investing” community, averting the looming crises in the most direct way possible, and with much less government involvement. Following that wave of necessity to avert disaster would also turn our world onto the natural growth path for perfecting how we use the earth. You could ask yourself and others to join the wave! The choices of higher purposes include the Green Climate Fund, supporting various SDG goals. The real, macro-economic effect is to distribute wealth in the service of higher purposes while directing profits away from concentrating wealth and raising the economy’s ever growing demands on nature and humanity.
Various other journal entries here discuss more about “what to do”, there’s a whole category with dozens of good little articles and discussions of it. Still, the best way to learn about it is for yourself, from watching how all of life revolves around the variations in nature’s integral, seeing for yourself how ‘start-up’ processes yield to ‘end-up’ processes in taking things to the natural climax of releasing them for their useful life.
UN meetings on the first year of SDG implementation are over now, were very intense, and in the end quite successful for finding a new way to discuss the neglected issue of natural limits. The scientific community that understands the connection between our natural limits and economic growth has been totally shut out of the UN discussion for years. I didn’t get to speak to the main body on that directly, but I finally found a way to talk about the problem, that the SDG’s don’t in any real way count the global impacts of our decisions:
The ISO’s world environmental accounting standards fail to honor its fiduciary duty to our interests and human right to honest data,
only counting local impacts, leaving all global impacts of financial decisions uncounted and unaccountable.
SD decision makers are the most hurt, kept from knowing most of what they are deciding.
The 17 Goals
It had seemed I would have a chance to speak at the UN, officially representing the long neglected interests of the scientific community that understands the coupling of the economy and natural limits. Below is the email I sent a number of scientists and other experts who understanding is not being represented:
I found a way for scientists who have long understood natural limits, to get official representation at the UN, in the UN’s community of CSO’s (Civil Society Organizations), as a member of its “Major Groups and Other Stakeholders” (MGoS). The present work is the review and guidance of the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals project (SDG’s), and the High Level Political Forum’s (HLPF) oversight of it. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/hlpf
Please circulate widely. Non-expert members welcome too. There is no organization at this time, just me seeing an opportunity to have our long neglected interests given official recognition. I might start a Google Group with the names or something… Any statement would be in the interests of the group rather than as if representing a group position
The draft text for representing the group’s interest to the UN is is here.
Time was too short for it to get around, and response was slow, except for the two great ones I really appreciate getting, so I turned off the Google invitation form . It still seems to be something that community really should find a way to do though!
Short version Voted a Top Comment on the Forbes article
“The Stock Market And Bernie Sanders Agree — Break Up The Banks” , a more full story follows.
The reality of the matter is as embarrassing as it could be. If you trace it all back to origins… it’s our very own greed causing the whole mess, our demanding that Wall Street produce ever faster growing **unearned income** for our investments.
That’s what is now backfiring on us as the serious scientists all always said it would. The earth is not an infinite honey pot… is the big problem our not so big hearts and minds have in grasping the consequences of our own choices. We simply failed to notice the consequences, or listen to those saying “beware of what you ask for”.
The truth is WE became “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”* and now we are dealing with having turned the planet into our Fantasia. The truth is that if we “Break Up the Banks” the financial system we designed to grow unearned income will just keep multiplying the disruptions the scientists always pointed to it causing! Are there options?? Well find someone honest who studies it perhaps…
Sorcerer’s Apprentice http://goo.gl/Zu69yD
(If this YouTube copy is inaccessible sometimes you may need to find another copy or just recall the heroic tragedy of it all, from the last time you saw it.)
Day after the NY Primary 2016:
In New York State yesterday there seemed to be a lot of answers, but we can all see more questions too. Neither Trump nor Sanders are offering practical ways of doing it, but clearly raised a huge chorus of “throw the bums out”, without actually identifying “who the bums are” as part of the questions left hanging. To the surprise of many Trump’s win was so persuasive it seems to almost legitimize his candidacy. To the surprise of many as well, Sanders overall persuasively lost to Hillary Clinton, and only had persuasive wins in conservative upstate areas. In ultra-liberal New York City, his claim to ultra-liberal leadership found really very few neighborhoods persuaded. New York is the kind of place that needs no persuasion at all on the legitimacy of his issues, but found his manner and inability to say what he’d actually do, and relying on a constant stream what had to be called rather misogynist digs.. caused him to lose legitimacy.
So nearly all agree the bums need to be thrown out, but “who the bums are” remains unanswered, and largely undiscussed too, The Trump campaign colorfully claims the intention to disregard all the rules to “get the raccoons out of the basement”, and with no strategy but public outrage, sweep away the broken Republican party and Washington DC political establishments. Sanders imagines that some executive order breaking up the banks and popular demand for relieving very real and widespread despair will remove all the barriers to doing that.
I’ve studies these problems in great detail for many years, and have in fact been expecting to have to somehow claim to have predicted this kind of grand societal collision with itself from the first time I caught a glimpse of the real problem. My observations are only a little more detailed and focused on locating who has a choice, who actually is “at fault” in that sense, as the natural disaster at the end of capitalism has been has been long predicted for what I see as all the wrong reasons for centuries.
That real problem is that “Wall Street” is the name given to the practices of the financial traders who trade everyone’s investment funds, and so… “Wall Street” actually already works for us, and doing precisely what we ask it to do. There’s just something profoundly confused about what we ask it to do. We ask it to manage the use of our idle savings to produce profits to add to our savings, and so multiply in scale without end except for letting the trader take a share of the spoils, Of course the bargain is that multiplying your profit taking from your world with no exception eventually destroys your world, invisible only if you don’t look.
I don’t know quite why Goethe did not sharply identify that ultimately seductive bargain with the Devil when writing Faust. That play is apparently his morality tale about what happens when making that bargain. He was, though, enough more clear in depicting it in his balladic poem Der Zauberlehrling, that Walt Disney used as the basis of his ever popular animated film Fantasia, and very pointed fable “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.
Our hero, Mickey Mouse, steals a look at the sorcerer’s book of secrets and immaturely calls upon its magic to command his broom to carry the heavy water of his chores, so he can sleep all day. As he awakes he finds the magical broom can’t be stopped, as Micky doesn’t know what spell to cast for that, and is flooding the whole house and castle, and so MUST be stopped. Then like people feel today, Micky picks up his ax to do in the boom for good…, but finds in chopping up the one it only multiplies magical brooms and the rising flood turns into a great torrent.
The failure of Mickey’s strategy would, of course, be repeated if Sanders’ grand gesture calling for “breaking up the banks” were to actually be applied. The various banks that have now grown overwhelmingly big, magically carrying our water so we can accomplish ever more without work, will all just continue expand, as long as we ask them to use our savings as before. You would just get more banks accumulating more disparity in the wealth of the world. Whether the phrase “break up the banks” refers to dividing up the banks into smaller ones, or separating their savings and investing functions, it wouldn’t alter a bit the basic service they are being asked to provide us as investors. They’d still be using our idle money to multiply, in some magical way, so we can be showered with fruits without labor, and left with the puzzle of why that can’t keep working.
Investors may or may not feel “wet”, but if you look around the world, everyone else does look rather soaked! It’s a quandary that we’ll have to resolve, why the secrets of creating wealth were apparently not shared by our process of enjoying wealth. So what’s clear, at least, is we now have a new job. It’s not one that Wall Street asked for, perhaps, but that they can’t refuse as they work for us. It’s to break with the Faustian bargain we made with ourselves, and perhaps stumbling some also stumble without regrets so much as anticipation, get about the work of showing the world another side of what we can do with our genius.
Here we don’t find ourselves without a plan of action, is what’s different from the many calls to protest, though the plan may need repeated adjustment and improvement in various ways. It’s ironically not like Bernie’s plan to “not take Wall Street’s money” either. It’s indeed to “take Wall Street’s money” we belatedly realize, because Wall Street is in fact just managing our money for us, and we just need to as for the right thing. That’s the real way to break our bargain with the Devil, that we do seem to be at a great historical point of rejecting. We can take our knowledge of wealth with us too, but only if we learn the other tricks needed to leave the earth whole and to share.
The following is written for circulation in the “data science” research communities, on some advances in scientific methods of system recognition I’d like to share. It starts with mention of the very nice 9 year old work published by Google on “Detecting Influenza Epidemics using search engine query data” taken from a letter to that paper’s authors. Take the reference to be to your own work, though, as it involves system recognition either in life or exposed by streams of incoming data.
I expect a lot of new work has followed your seminal paper on detecting epidemics as natural systems.
But are there people starting to focus on more general “system recognition”,
studying “shapes of data” that expose “design patterns” for the systems producing it?
Any individual “epidemic” is a bit like a fire running it’s course, and sometimes innovating the way it spreads. That change in focus directs attention to how epidemics operate as emergent growth systems, with sometimes shifting designs that may be important and discoverable, if you ask the right questions. You sometimes hear doctors talking about them that way. In most fields there may be no one thinking like doctors, even though in a changing world it really would apply to any kind of naturally changing system.
Turning the focus to the systems helps one discover transformations taking place, exposed in data of all sorts. One technique allows data curves to be made differentiable, without distortion. That lets you display evidence of underlying systems perhaps entering periods of convergence, divergence or oscillation, for example, prompting questions about what evidence would confirm it or hint at how and why.
Focusing on “the system” uses “data” as a “proxy” for the systems producing it, like using a differentiable “data equation” to closely examine a system’s natural behavior. In the past we would have substituted a statistic or an equation instead. By prompting better questions that way it makes data more meaningful, whether you find answers right away or not. I think over the years I’ve made quite a lot of progress, with new methods and recognized data signatures for recurrent patterns, and would like to find how to share it with IT, and collaborate on some research.
Where it came from is very briefly summarized with a few links below. Another quick overview is in 16 recent Tweets that got a lot of attention this past weekend, collected as an overview of concepts for reading living systems with bigdata.
I hope to find research groups I can contribute to. If you’re interested you might look at my consulting resume too. If you have questions and want to talk by phone or Skype please just email a suggested time.
ed note: The current discussion of the core dilemma of capitalism, as a limitless system for creating growing wealth, is in terms of the crises we now face caused by it, producing socially disruptive innovation and growing financial inequity. Those include 1) threats of rapidly growing social inequity, 2) unsustainable national and private debt, 3) disruptive scales of job loss from globalization and automation, 4) demands for unachievable ever faster and ever more complex learning and change , 5) the rapid depletion of earth’s resources, 6) disruption of the climate and earth’s ecologies, and of course 7) increasing international conflicts between conflicting economic interests, and of course, 8) growing risks of grand scale financial collapses due to failing promises, as a kind of general list. It’s quite a list. There’s been a very long debate but mostly scattered in pieces and hidden from view. That’s both because the primary culprit is our whole way of life, naturally hard to talk about, and what to do with “money” .
The design of our economic system that defines “capitalism” is very simple. It’s “the use of investment profits to build up investments”. That’s it. Why such a simple practice has a hold on us is that it promises both society and individuals ever faster growing profits without growing work. Of course that tends to end up badly, having been much too good to be true from the start. The equally simple design of all natural systems is that “any system needs to build up to get started, and then stop building up to continue”. The two definitions conflict. Keynes and Boulding foresaw that the two would come to blows, once the economic system had built up and needed to stop building up to continue. They saw capitalism could become like a natural system and can change only if investors spend their profits. The sense of it is that investors would “pay it forward” so their profits would take care of the future rather that keep “paying it back” so old money could take ever more from the future. It would let our economic system first build up, and then stop building up, to be able to continue, with no guarantees but as a possible path forward. It’s all too simple as a design problem, as how all enduring natural systems develop and needs the social principle to make sense. The dilemma is completely unsolvable as a financial problem within capitalism, though, challenging our whole way of life as a rather immediate concern. jlh 3/14/16
from a 21st century view……
Your question is, do we all use our profits to extract increasing pay back from others,
building up an ever growing drain on what makes our world profitable?
Or do we pay our profits forward to assure our world remains healthy
to grow our own ideals, our families, our communities and our world,
treating profits as a gift to what matters?
J.M. Keynes and Ken Boulding were early and mid 20th century “whole system thinkers”. They were true geniuses, struggling for words to convey how complex systems with all independent parts work as a whole somehow. It’s truly the profound puzzle of nature, how illogical it is that all the independent parts of systems would act as if they were all coordinated. They didn’t stop at just looking for simple rules of prediction having no idea where they came from or when they might change. They also looked for and found elementally simple organizing principles of design, for how the parts of market economies coordinated with each other as whole systems and what drove them, central principles they weren’t able to communicate and that have yet to be appreciated at all. From their views they did each say that:
the world economy would soon bankrupt itself by over-investment,
as a natural limit to unlimited financial growth,
due to the central driving financial practice of compound investment
Each was also a expansive thinker with their own ways of speaking about broad principles, so they are hard to read too. It’s only by learning to think about the economy as a whole system, with all its parts working together, and distributing its surpluses and shortages throughout all its connections, that you can piece together from their writings the common finger prints for the above simple principle as what they were clearly saying.
I had some extra help with it, though. I learned of Keynes’ work on the natural limits of finance from speaking with Ken, having gotten a chance to ask him in person, if he knew of any economists who had studied the limits of compound investment as a natural limit to growth. I had asked Ken about it in 1983, and was able to understand what he said on the subject, because I had been searching for a few years already for anyone else who had discovered the principle, that growth systems, if not interfered with, would naturally upset their own conditions for growth. It’s a completely invariant natural principle. Continue reading Did Keynes & Boulding both really say that?→
This is a good introductory description, excerpted from an email, w/ a little edit. The abstract and link are for a paper on “Guiding Patterns of Natural Design:Mining Living Quality” for an upcoming Pattern Language of Programming conference.
Oh, it’s sort of magic..
the hope of course:
is that this emergence of a sound new way to communicate “wholeness in design”
leads to the world ‘transformation to living design’ everyone is so eagerly awaiting…
Pattern language is a new way of communicating design concepts, created by Christopher Alexander, an architect whose ideas came out of the same 60’s/70’s architecture community as mine did, only starting a decade earlier, and he became a wonderful architectural design teacher. Anyway, his idea for how to ‘encode’ principles of ‘wholeness’ for architectural design elements was fairly successful, resulting in a series of books beginning with “A Pattern Language” in 1977, and experiments in urban design as recorded in “A New Theory of Urban Design” 1987, and in attracting a significant following.Then his methodology for defining ‘designpatterns‘ did the magical thing… of being picked up and translated for use in other fields, a real technology transfer, actually representing the encoding of a set of rather ancient and wonderful architectural design principles, for other uses, i.e. “realmagic“! Where it had an amazing impact was on computer programming, becoming the basis of “object oriented design“, as a way of letting programmers communicate and understand their own design objectives, for both the wholes and parts of their programs. Till the late 80’s when this new approach to defining design purposes took hold, programmers really had no good way to define the ‘parts‘ of computer programs, or how they needed to work together to make a ‘whole‘.
So having a way to define “working units of design” seems to me at least to be a big part of why modern programming became so successful, like maybe the other real secret behind the communication power of the internet other than micro-chips. Pattern language lets programmers break computer programs into intelligible workable parts, representing real whole purposes and intentions. It was Alexander’s loving way of describing the pieces of designs that did that, understanding and portraying design as a search for “living quality“. And it caught on. It provides a model for describing
versatile solutions for common problems
as a balance of the forces they resolve
Of course, one of the “forces” is whether we are creating a “living world” or an “inhuman world“, and whether the designs we make can become at home in our environment, to bring us and the earth living quality, or not. That was the issue he was obsessed with from the start. So, like I said, a sign of magic.
What’s more of course, is that his method of defining “design patterns” and my pattern science for understanding “natural systems” are awfully close cousins. You might say they’re much the same thing in several ways, except his focus was on the patterns of wholeness for purposeful design and my focus was on patterns of wholeness in naturally occurring designs. His “search model” for design patterns was “living quality” and mine was for “what makes life lively”, asked as a physicist who happened to have an education in design too. So when I was introduced to his work as it had later matured (I really wasn’t “in the loop” or didn’t “get it” before) and I saw how it was being used by non-architects, I finally recognized the connection and now have lots to do! It’s such a pleasure.
…and the laws that move you from maximizing power to maximizing resilience.
Like many young college women Kepler awoke that morning with other things on her mind than the project she had planned for the day. She had been dreaming about how she loved her drawers of personal things, in colorful piles, neatly rolled, in little bags and folded, each in its own style and fit together. Maybe she would become a “collector”, she thought, they gave her such a thrill. How nature was “quite a collector” too fascinated her too, creating all the natural world’s very special arrangements, with everything having it’s own individual home, utterly improbable in such number and variety, and so highly organized and grouped with fitting parts everywhere.
She’d also been told that lots of scientists thought nature’s patterns came from a natural law of energy, that everything sought to maximize its power, which honestly, just made her wrinkle her forehead… She did not know, of course, but thought there was something hidden in the magic of how things in nature so often yielded to each other, an obvious secret to how things come to fit so closely. So she quietly thought perhaps that seemed at least or was perhaps even more important.
What she had planned to do that day was use her old graphic calculator from high school, to do an experiment in rewriting the history of the economy, laughing as she said it that way. Could you show an economy as being responsive, seeking to get along, rather than just getting more and more aggressive in looking for, in the end, how to get in ever bigger trouble? What would it be like, she wondered, if people could be responsive as a rule. The idea had come up in reading that the climate change scientists, the IPCC, had said we needed to reduce world CO2 production to half what it was in 2010. It was only recently in fact that the world economy had been below that, and now everyone was saying we had to go back but probably couldn’t. She felt she had all the facts, though.
So she had the idea to just…
– totally redraw the history of ever growing CO2 – to show mankind as being responsive to the approach of climate change
She didn’t get it to work till quite late that night, but it worked! What she had of course been thinking about, and felt that anyone who mattered constantly worried about behind every other subject, was the strange continual way the human society was so energetically trying to destroy its own future. The evidence could not be more clear, with the ever faster consumption of everything useful on earth, that an economy maximizing its growth unavoidably does. Anyone can plainly see that happening, as climate change keeps accelerating faster than expected. Everyone hears about the ever increasing loss of natural species from disrupting ever more natural habitats too, and the impossible debts nations have accumulated making their decision making impossible, and so many other disturbing things.
It wasn’t a “debate” to her. It also wasn’t her “cause” either. She also did not really see it as her job to change other people’s minds. It was just something she personally needed to know, about her own life, and whether it could be meaningful. Continue reading Kepler→
I had found a cozy place to work on sustainability from inside the UN, but discovered the words holding the discussion together there had accumulated meanings that were deeply dishonest… so I’m back on the outside.
Over the past year I developed two rather wonderful scientific learning methods, as if school courses in “Niche Making 101, 102”, for people searching for how to work with nature. One is the 3Step method for learning how your economic commons works and the other the World SDG for making the totality of our growing impacts on the earth transparent to each other. Both were very unexpectedly attacked rather than discussed in the organization I was part of, though, and I’m understanding the offense.
After much suffering, puzzlement and close observation, the harsh reaction to learning by a scientific approach now seems due to it not being sufficiently ideological. Unfortunately… letting up on the ideologies we may use to stamp the world with is the very first rule for learning from nature. Finding that people both didn’t seem to know that, or to be willing to try, is an important lesson I wasn’t prepared to learn, especially that my own social network would respond as if attacked by my suggesting good creative ways to do it .
Ideology is an artificial and inflexible but handy social substitute for reality. By definition ideologies are self-defined, built up as social affirmations in well connected networks. It makes them strong but also largely unable to adapt and respond. For people they provide mental comfort, useful knowledge of group habits, and a private coded language only understood in the network.
How ideologies can open up and become adaptive we often fail to notice, though, how often we naturally change from one to another in the course of a day or week as we engage with different networks. We change ideologies much as if putting on and taking off clothes, often using a change of clothing to do it in fact. So,… it seems sensitive, but need not offend, to notice that ideologies need to be suited to situations and to grow and change with them, letting us try on different ones for fit. Ideologies can be temporarily considered as “nice outfits to wear”, and need not be treated as contracts required of others for whom they don’t fit.
Sadly, the dishonest words this viewpoint helps us understand are some of the favorites in the discussion of sustainability. They’re ways of mixing honorific images of ever accumulating wealth and reducing our footprints on the earth: “sustainable growth”, “decoupling”, “circular economy”, even “sustainable development”. They’re frequently used to compare “apples and oranges” and coming up with “ever increasing consumption without consumption”. With that usage our goal and purpose becomes to accelerate the “tragedy of the commons”, that is our whole discussion is about how to avoid.
How you can tell that for yourself is by observing that putting the contradictory meanings of “development” together requires switching back and forth from one ideology to the other, with that switch not being mentioned. It shows that people, in conversation, are adopting an ideology of hiding when they switch ideologies. Sadly that seems what we have socialized around doing, unaware of the consequence. At present nearly anywhere in the global sustainability movement you go (and I’ve really looked around!), you get strong pushback for even trying to bring it up.
Nature doesn’t respond to artful ideology in the least, though. Not one little bit. What nature responds to is the growth of new organisms that change from expanding their conquests to then making their niches. That succession is their (and our) door to joining the commons by making their (and our) homes in it. Feel good euphemisms for the opposite, stitching together our true ideals into fig leaves for endless conquest philosophies like BAU, actually don’t work.
No need to take off our clothes in public… but dropping ideological fig leaves at times
seems required for how we learn.
New design pattern science for working with natural systems.