By Deepak Chopra. Science often makes strides by contradicting what we take for granted, and the biggest thing everyone takes for granted is the physical world. Our senses wrap themselves around tangible objects so naturally that it’s difficult to believe that they may be misleading us completely.
A systems view is somewhat in contradiction to the concept of analysis, which is breaking things down into smaller pieces to simplify the study. Analysis brings with it the risk of potentially loosing the most relevant characteristics of the system, and possibly developing a less than complete understanding. Yes, analysis is an important technique, and at the same time another method of study is also warranted, something I have seen called anasynthis. Anasynthis being the study of the whole, and the parts, in the hopes of developing an appropriate level of understanding.
The living world is filled with striped and mottled patterns of contrasting colours; with sculptural equivalents of those patterns realised as surface crests and troughs, with patterns of organisation and behaviour even among individual organisms. People have long been temped to find some ‘intelligence’ behind all these biological patterns. In the early twentieth century the Belgian Symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, pondering the efficient organisation of bee and termite colonies asked; What is it that governs here? What is it that issues orders? Foresees the future? Elaborates, plans and preserves equilibrium? Administers and condemns to death?
A video exploring small world networks in the human world and throughout nature.
We are increasingly aware that many our living systems – human and natural – are at risk today, as we face incredibly complex and interconnected challenges related to global security, environmental degradation, and inter-woven economies. Understanding the nature and dynamics of living systems, therefore, can shed light on how we think about our problems and our resources, and about the assumptions and the choices we make.
In this video Cesar Hidalgo at MIT asks intriguing questions about how social and economic systems interact. He sees networks as holding the knowledge and know-how necessary to ‘crystallise’ information into the things we use every day. The capacity of a network to hold this sort of knowledge and know-how is thus for him directly linked to economic activity. It helps explain how economic growth is variable and differs from place to place. It says that a theory of economics that doesn’t take into account the social complexity of society and its networks is incomplete. This 20 minute address at the RSA is a rapid tour through Cesar’s work. It is expanded in more depth in his book ‘Why information grows’. If you are exploring how social networks relate to economic activity this is well worth a look.
Chaos is a purely mathematical concept; it is an undeniable mathematical fact. We know that theoretical physics is built on mathematics, and that all theoretical physicists are applied mathematicians. The first question that I want to examine, then, is: why is it that, among all the practitioners of science, applied science, engineering disciplines, and human sciences, physicists were practically the last ones to be interested in chaos and to use it in their work?
For me, as a systems thinker, I see group function as equivalent to a collective mind, the connections and relationships between people and their environment coming together to create a unique collective consciousness that makes sense of the each situation and from it derive appropriate actions. If you cannot reproduce these connections in a single brain, can you recreate them across a community?
This is the key text on what it means to be in flow, how flow is created and maintained.
In The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell confronts the reader with the universal fears of what may be, what may happen. The fear we have of the unknown. The power of doubt. He reminds us that the cost of being human is an imbalance of heart and soul; humanity confronted with the flaws of civilisation and modernism. But all is not lost.
Mintzberg is always worth a read. In this blog he punctures the notion of turbulence and accelerating change. Instead he points out the enduring continuity in so much that we do. For me, I think change is always there, it is the way human systems adapt, but much of this change comes to nothing. Paradoxically change is part of maintaining the status quo. So if we are to manage continuity do we also need to be able to accept variation as inevitable? Because where there is variation, adaptation is ever far behind.
Cultural conflicts are increasing and are understandably more dangerous today than at any other time in history. The end of the era of rationalism has been catastrophic. Armed with the same supermodern weapons, often from the same suppliers, and followed by television cameras, the members of various tribal cults are at war with one another. By day, we work with statistics; in the evening, we consult astrologers and frighten ourselves with thrillers about vampires. The abyss between rational and the spiritual, the external and the internal, the objective and the subjective, the technical and the moral, the universal and the unique, constantly grows deeper.
A reminder of J Edwards Deming’s 14 points, the father of process improvement. Interesting, isn’t it, just how often these aren’t followed?
Bohm’s idea of an implicate order is phenomenally deep and the product of an outstanding physicist’s brain in consort with a deep level of personal awareness. A classic that will make you think.