Category Archives: Uncategorized


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

Nature’s Capitalism: “Homemaking” now, not competition over shrinking pies!

This post is for the UN’s OWG 5 proceedings next week, on Post2015 Macro Economic development positions.  It led to the OWG 8 proposal “A World SDG“, introducing an integrated true scientific measure of sustainability... It’s now followed with “The Decoupling Puzzle – a partial answer” , on measuring our decoupling rate”, and the development space reserved  within planetary boundaries, such as for achieving world cultural wellbeing!

Sadly, as careful as I am with the language, there is some scientific thinking… so the social organizations generally found no way to engage in discussing it.   The basic principle is that “when you build something you then need to take care of it”… something everyone knows in their personal lives.  That runs into the problem that, culturally, we don’t see economic growth as “building something”.  We see it culturally as a “constant” of prosperity… the ultimate tragedy of our times. that ever faster change is seen as “constant” it seems. 4/21/14 jlh


As a young systems scientist many years ago

I noticed a need for a better type of economic model,

that would connect money to its “externalities” in part.  More importantly it would let people see economies as the complex living organisms they really are.  What I found was the universal stages of natural development, that are repeated in the way any natural event or system develops from small beginnings to multiply at first, and then by multiplying in it’s environment changes it, an Organizational Stages Model (OSM)

Economies are chock full of independently organized and behaving social and cultural communities behaving like organisms, that each develops from a seed of organization in an environment of resources.   You can talk about “why” things occur, causes at a distance or coincidences but that’s an intellectual issue, a prediction, a theory.  

This is about using the most general of pattern of “how” individual events occur the processes of developmental causation taking place in nature in every location where events occur.

Economies, for example, are all populated by actively creative and learning people, discovering things and following each other’s leads….  So what this “Organizational Stages Model” (OSM) approach focuses on for economies is how people learn and how what they learn to do spreads as transformational stages of growth and the emergence of new systems, and their natural limits.   The simple rule, for the transformative stages of any process of new emerging organization, then, is that it’s organizational process will follow an “S” curve.   The first half is of multiplying innovation and expansion of connections, a “burst of development”, and the second a process of rebalancing and integrating.

Organizational Stages Model

That’s the dynamic we need to capture in our minds to understand the world we live in.    An economy is really a whole “civilization” in fact, organized like an ecosystem, accumulating and passing on its knowledge of “how to live” in the form of family and social cultures, as the living “genetic code” of the societies they create.   THAT is what the word “growth” refers to, the compound rates of expansion of that whole organic living culture.

As systems of nature, all those living parts and the whole, first grow and then mature to live and later decline
by very much the same succession of life’s great transformative experiences.

The ultimate most useful model for it I found is really cool!   It’s organized as “a Narrative of Life” as a great chain of instrumental transformations.   I’ve been looking for a name for my life’s work on it.. perhaps “Life Narrative Studies” (LNS) would do.  I won’t further introduce it here, as it’s what my whole site is about, but just present this new graphic to help readers get a feel for the general pattern.


Organizational Stages Model (OSM)

______________ Continue reading Nature’s Capitalism: “Homemaking” now, not competition over shrinking pies!

Hay… We finally made the move !

1948_NearTimlof-This NY blog is real glad the WordPress tools are so portable!!   We moved from servers in the Mid-West to ones in Virginia today!    I have more to say than time to write, and another website to build, or well… that’s the plan.   Plans change a lot.

I’ll probably keep just working on the “knowledge bridge”, a tremendous labor of love for me I guess, slowly, slowly, learning how to speak to people in familiar natural language terms about the wonderfully beautiful but unfamiliar deep organization of the living systems.    Why that’s possible is fascinating, that natural language actually evolved *by means of* referring to the working features of the complexly organized systems of life, as a “way to talk” about working with nature’s systems that we rely so heavily on them “just working by themselves”.

So… it really helps to notice that the meanings of our words really do originate from the natural meanings of the complex organizations of things in nature.   It makes natural language, by default, a quite advanced sort of “organic systems theory”.    All one needs to do is “just take a fresh look“, at the things our words already refer to in nature…

Using words like “friend” or “storm” or “house”, you both refer to common “word meanings” and also to the complex systems of familiar natural relationships that the words also refer to, along with how they work in the natural world as their “natural meanings”.     It’s a way to pull your mind back to connecting with the natural meanings of things, and a fuller way to experience them.    To enrich the “word meaning” with the “natural meaning” you just keep adding to your reflections on the things of nature as you experience your natural relationships with them.

Finding Organization in Natural Systems – “Quick Start”

How Natural Systems Work… is by forming processes that produce a profit, used to grow it, in a burst of creative self-organization, to become sustainable ONLY IF the profits that built it get used to maintain what was built; the essential road map.

That general model of nature’s “facts of life” is your “quick start”.   Following is a foreword and then a compact introduction to a scientific method. Anyone can observe the details of how developmental systems work by just learning to study the development of individual systems in nature.  You start with learning how to identify natural “living systems” as what fills our environments from watching how they develop.  Then you can recognize them as cells of organization that produce resources for their own development.  Easier reading descriptions are found in:

In a Nut Shell and Why ?¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸  The scientific method

How Natural Systems Fail… A growth system that can’t change to maintaining itself after building itself, becomes disabled.   As for our modern world economy, at the limits of the earth, keeps devoting more and more effort to expanding, it drains resources from maintaining itself. What’s wrong is the essential road map for sustainability is missing.   It is absent from our great cultural conversations, absent from the models of the professions and groups trying to stabilize the economy or seek “sustainability”.


An Organizational Stages Model (OSM)

–  the science  –

Foreword: Understanding natural systems involves learning how to first recognize them as individually developing systems, and then discover some of the hidden organization within them.   You can find them where you see events have “lives of their own”.   The real learning is a “learning by doing” process, as the key is discovering how to define your words by referring to self-defining objects of the natural world, not defining words with other words or use abstract models.

Abstract languages are “self-referential” and what a science of natural systems needs is words defined by nature.   To understand system models, then, you then need to consider them as questions about the real world subjects that are NOT in the model… but referred to by the words associated with the natural subject, a new way of scientific thinking.

Most any history of events will have periods of accumulating change that speed up and then slow down.  That becomes the main subject, the key that unlocks the basket of productive questions  about “what’s happening”.   It’s the question that identifies a systematic process of change as a sign of a developmental process and evidence of a self-organizing system doing it.

When some local system of change is “taking off” or later “fading away”, you notice where it and begin piecing together what is doing it, by watching for regularly changing rates of change.    It could be anything from the history of your own career choices, to the stages of organization for “the big prom”, the founding of your own business or the dramatic global shifts in economies and societies that “history” is itself a record of.





[This is a sample graph showing a real systemic transformation.   Only the data is shown to focus your attention on the changing rates of change](i)


It definitely helps to have some kind of “data” to indicate when locally developing changes are speeding up or slowing down, and notice the turning point from one to the other.   The different periods of behavior display different states of organization, and are used for “building a narrative ” for how one transitions into the next.  The traditional scientific.  For systems with hidden organization, it’s the continuity of change that is the direct evidence, of organization you can’t actually see, but can expect to find if you look there for it.

Continue reading Finding Organization in Natural Systems – “Quick Start”

Review of Science for UN’s SDG’s

A brief report and links to presentations for the Mar 20, 21 Science meeting at the UN


There was an Expert Group Meeting on Science and Sustainable Development Goals at the UN last Wed & Thurs.  Most of the presentations would be easy to get the sense of just from the slides.   I think worth the trouble.    Below are the links and very brief notes on my impressions.   There’s also background information on science and the Rio & Agenda 21 issues: Science; Sustainable development goals;

{j} A brief report. The 10 presentations are highly informative. One in particular raises grave concerns.   The apparent dominant view in the sustainability sciences from #1 still seems to be that “decoupling” is a realistic objective, if we just “innovate”.

If asking the hard questions suggested by #9 we’d acknowledge “decoupling” is an idea to have ever growing wealth and ever shrinking resource needs as our future plan.  We’d also ask whether resource limits are what matters in the end, or whether ever larger and faster change in how we live would become unmanageable anyway…

There also seems to be no direct measure to use for determining if SD goals are achievable or sustainable.  My presentation, if I were to make one, would offer the science to fill that gap.


1. Decoupling – Natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth – Mr. Fischer-Kowalski & Mr. Swilling, International Resource Panel and UNEP

{j}  – The fervent dream in some quarters that we might create ever increasing wealth without resources (“decoupling”) is still at odds with the long established and continuing trends.  It seems presented here as still a hopeful challenge rather than something probably dangerous to rely on.
– see also Apr30 2014 “Decoupling Puzzle – a partial answer

2. Early warning of climate tipping points – Mr. Tim Lenton, University of Exeter

{j}  – It would be great to hear the full presentation, as the new information I see right at the top of this is quite shocking, that the climate change expected not too far off, is a relatively abrupt shift from one stability range to quite another.

3. From MDGs to SDGs: Key challenges and opportunities – Mr. Dave Griggs, Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Future Earth

{j}   – several nice conceptual diagrams, hopes and fears

4. Future Earth: research for global sustainability – Mr. Stephen Zebiak, Earth Institute, Columbia University

{j}   – presents a world science collaborative called “Future Earth”, to guide all parties in making decisions from a scientific basis, so, a ‘multi-stakeholder’ process for science to speak, that I think would succeed and fail as the IPCC did unless it includes the financial and business communities, AND, the three of them use real measures to determine what profitable scenarios are actually sustainable.

5. Strengthening the science-policy interface – Global Sustainable Development ReportUnited Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Mr. Richard Alexander Roehrl, Division for Sustainable Development

{j}   Nice presentation on trends in research, and list of upcoming assessments of progress and potential,  but talk of global modeling of system change as the reference indicator,

6. Strong support for SDGs from the scientific communityInternational Council for Science (ICSU) Mr. Gisbert Glaser, Senior Advisor

{j}j   Science strongly supports the funding of the great scientific research being done

7. Sustainability is political – Building pathways in a safe and just space for humanity – Ms. Melissa Leach, Steps Centre

{j}   Good selling points for succeeding, but not clearly connected with paths to success as I see the main dilemma and barrier to selling it

8. The role of science and scenario modeling in setting priorities for SDGs – Ms. Claudia Ringler, International Food Policy Research Institute

{j}   Focusing on hunger, the benefits of succeeding and the costs of not

9. The role of science and scenario modeling in setting priorities for SDGs? – Youba Sokona

{j}   A planning exercise, last three slides ask the hard questions…

10. The role of science and scenario modeling in setting SDG prioritiesUnited Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Mr. Mark Howells, Royal Institute of Technology (Kungliga Tekniska Hogskolan)

{j}   Nice display of the complex system modeling approach contemplated, that misses the financial need for compound returns for financial system stability, and so for the system to accelerate outputs to infinity…


Jessie Henshaw 3/23/13

“Spooky theory” helps with wicked problems

A way to respond to experience we’re unable to articulate.

There are lots of cases when what attracts us to a theory is its sort of “spooky” truth. “Urban myths” often contain them, and science can often be the source of them, as well as cultural sayings and religion too, of course.   The value is that they give you, a way to respond to experience we’re unable to articulate.

For applying them to real world problems, however, it’s rather important to “do the work” of finding real examples you can study and articulate. What’s NOT needed is “spooky action” for real problems… ;-)  So here are a couple notes on how to find  real examples to help you apply curiously attractive metaphors and “spooky theories” to decision making about the real problems, such as our groping with finding our place on earth.    jlh

“spooky theory” then becomes a metaphor for something real you understand well enough to use as a guide.

Piercing the Veil: Markovich. Painting In Oil On Wood, 2006
    1. Spooky “biomimicry”   Sep 2012
    2. Spooky “Q.M.”               Sep 2012
    3. Spooky “chaos”            Sep 2012
    4. Steering for the organizational Lagrange Point Jul 2012
    5. Now real steering at the tipping points…! Jun 2009


1. for Greenleap 9/23/12 – “Spooky biomimicry” as “what to do”

Richard –  Ultimately “what to do” is a communal process somehow, as we’re in communal trouble.   Lots of people are seeking new directions of learning, but I can tell are often still using the blinders of the past to guide them… and not wanting to hear about it at all.    All you can offer them a more authentic way to search for new learning, hoping they’ll see it as fun.

Natural systems are the complexly organized and behaving “creatures of nature” that by definition operate without our thinking about them, or knowing anything about them, or doing anything, and are largely invisible to us.   That’s by definition “spooky nature”.   It’s also the source of all our mysterious stories about unanswered questions, and all our mysterious experiences.   What we can do with “spooky ideas” that situations suggest to us is then find an example that isn’t spooky, that we can then use as a real guide to how complex systems work and how to interact with them. – ed jlh

Continue reading “Spooky theory” helps with wicked problems

A circle ever more broken

I’ve found that it eventually pays, to let my moral dilemmas hurt my feelings if I actually want to know the answer. I don’t ever dwell on emotional pain.  I just know I can learn from it if I attentively listen to what it’s about.  Our world is spiraling out of control, yet again, as if people had no clue as to why.

The Pentecostal anthem “May the Circle be Unbrokencontains a kernel of systems physics I hadn’t noticed until recently, in a spiral the circles don’t connect, but are eve more separated.   It came to mind when a question led me to think about the heartbreak of alienation that people all over the earth feel so personally, when they realize that are living in societies leading them into desperate troubles.

That was one of the common recognitions among the generation born after WWII, and the popular impetus for the “counter culture”.  The sense everyone seemed to share was that the post war culture seemed like it would just repeat the same sort of horrible sequence of global catastrophes it had just experienced, and might learn nothing from it at all.   That time lots was actually learned from the experience, of course.   Only thirty years later, though, world society is clearly creating conditions for the same scale of mega-catastrophe for mankind again.

It helps to face the fact “we’re doing it again”.

We have an economy requiring everyone’s energetic cooperation, running into destabilizing limits in virtually every direction at once, with no offer of a solution but “try harder”…   That’s a total formula for disaster.   It helps to face the fact “we’re doing it again”.   The “circle” today is ever more broken.

broken circle of growth
Growth is a chain of events for creating an ever more broken circle. It's a construction process leaving ever more unbuilt, to be completed or the spiral goes out of control.


People keep making cultures and economies that spiral out of control.  They abuse the love, cooperation and talents of their people, steering their lives toward performing tasks leading to great evil.   But.. who is society but a consensus on common purposes?   No one is “in change”.    Still people somehow build great societies with all good intent, that contain an internal logic that is “broken”.   Gradually over time we just notice them “spiraling ever further out of control”, each loop an ever further break from the past.

These aren’t metaphors, really.  Growth is a spiral process.  It physically builds upon the changes of to past to create ever greater changes in the future, diverging ever further from its prior path on every cycle.  That we’re now losing control of it is generally felt. It’s also accurately observed in the “fishtailing” of over-corrections and panicked avoidance of terrible consequences, dodging the consequent failures of guesswork on which excess reliance was placed.

Economic planners are “shooting from the hip”, unsure what to do, because nothing is really working.  The general progression is of events becoming ever more unmanageable.   Having things spiral out of control is a very natural process, like some cosmic storm of misfortunes, that happens in environments.   The error if there is one is our failing to notice it in time to reign it in, to make our “circle” unbroken again.