systems – cybernetics – complexity

Sweeney, Sawin, Cabrera: systems videos

Three recent videos -- each by a leader in systems education -- provide clear and concise introductions to systems concepts. Each that I describe here is also quite different from the others. Their differences are due in part to their framing. Linda Booth Sweeney starts with the question, "What is a system?" Beth Sawin explores, [...]

On René Thom, attractors, and metaphors

"If one doesn’t have a concept of an object, one can’t recognize it," insisted mathematician René Thom in To Predict is not to Explain, a set of interviews published in 1991 in French and 2010 in English. Thom is generally credited with the terms attractor and basin of attraction, concepts that are fundamental to chaos, complexity, [...]

Laniakea: the systemicity of contemporary science

A remarkable pair of videos, posted a couple months ago, describe research by R. Brent Tully and colleagues to map out our region of the universe and its change over time. "Now we know, on the edge of a supercluster called Laniakea, in a galaxy called the Milky Way, around a star we call the [...]

Margaret Mead’s evolutionary clusters today

In my experience, the famous Margaret Mead quote elicits widely divergent reactions. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Some find it inspiring, but I'm pretty skeptical. So I was delighted to see the photo at top, in which [...]

Disruptive innovation and the view from nowhere

I've posted an article on Medium: Jill Lepore’s popular essay in The New Yorker, “The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong,” requires some annotation. More >> Image: spectroscope, The British Library, on flickr

A complexity model of engagement

It's good to see people who are engaged in social change activities making use of models from complexity. Case in point: the 2013 "Civil Society in Transition" (pdf) report from Smart CSOs, a group that nurtures systems thinking and promotes cultural transformation among a network of mostly European civil society organizations. Their core model (cc-enabled) [...]

Churchman, Bayes, and the systems approach

Per my post on climate and the Bayesian brain, as well as the ever-present challenge of effective inquiry regarding the elephants among us, there's this prescient piece from C. West Churchman, c.1979: I was amazed that Khun's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, or the advent of Bayesian statistics, could have created such a stir [...]

Bruno Latour, systems thinker

Critiques of systems traditions and approaches have included Ida Hoos (Systems Analysis in Public Policy: A Critique), Robert Lilienfeld (The Rise of Systems Theory : An Ideological Analysis), and -- to my mind, significantly -- Jean-François Lyotard (The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge). Intriguing then that anthropologist Bruno Latour makes peace with systems thinking [...]

Edgar Morin: Parts and wholes

"The whole exists for and by means of the parts, and the parts for and by means of the whole," write Giuseppe Longo, Maël Montévil, and Stuart Kauffman in 2012's “No entailing laws, but enablement in the evolution of the biosphere," which I wrote about here. I was reminded of this piece from the enablement [...]

John Sterman: Almost nothing is exogenous

"Almost nothing is exogenous," said MIT System Dynamics Group director John Sterman in his 2002 Forrester Prize Lecture, "All models are wrong: reflections on becoming a systems scientist" (pdf). It's a perspective I've often voiced. Here's the key piece from Sterman's talk: If you ask people to name processes that strongly affect human welfare but [...]

What is it that we do when we do what we do?

In the book Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate-Change World, Ray Ison describes systems practice as a kind of performance. From my review in the journal Ecopsychology (just out, vol. 5 issue 2): [Ison's] guiding question for this performance is this: what is it that we do when we do what we do? [...]

Robert Rosen: Learning about S through S’

"The essential characteristic of systems theory," described theoretical biologist Robert Rosen, is that "there is a sense in which we can learn about S by studying S'." This pithy statement comes from Rosen's "Old Trends and New Trends in General Systems Research," the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Memorial Lecture at the 1979 meeting of the Society [...]

2004 roundtable on systems thinking

Looking at search trends for "systems thinking," I came across these videos of a 2004 roundtable at the 3rd International Conference on Systems Thinking in Management. Pictured are Russ Ackoff, Margaret Wheatley, Michael Maccoby, Allenna Leonard, Michael Jackson, and Peter Checkland. Also on the videos but not pictured here are: Barry Silverman, John Sterman, Ian [...]

National Academy of Sciences calls for systems thinking

Two mysteries in this Google trends search for the phrase "systems thinking”: why those peaks in 2004 (perhaps a big conference on systems thinking in management), and why the relative decline since then? Despite declining search volume, a 2012 U.S. National Academy of Sciences publication, Science for Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead, which came to [...]

Stafford Beer: 1973 Massey Lectures

At the time of this 1973 talk, cyberneticist Stafford Beer had just returned from Chile, where his Cybersyn project with the Allende government had ended with the military coup d'état. "The target is to transform the whole of industrial management, and to make Chilean industry fully effective in one year," wrote Beer. Instead, his staff destroyed the [...]

SFI: Complexity as incompressible regularity

"A complex system is a system that has a largely incompressible regularity," says evolutionary theorist David Krakauer (~56:30), at this August 2012 Santa Fe Institute discussion. Physicist Murray Gell-Mann adds (~1:11:00), "The minimum description length of the regularities is the complexity." And computer scientist Melanie Mitchell notes the multiple definitions of complexity (~55:45). This video [...]

Isomorphic relationships across complex networks

In "Network Cosmology," a new Nature Scientific Reports paper, Dmitri Krioukov and coauthors find similarities between the growth dynamics and structures of complex networks and those of an expanding universe. Krioukov is at the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis, University of California, San Diego. From the press release: By performing complex supercomputer simulations of [...]

Simple, complicated and complex problems

If we can put a person on the moon, why can't we... feed the world? Put an end to poverty? Or? As this figure shows, these questions exhibit a kind of category error, mistaking complex problems for the merely complicated. It is redrawn from from the 2007 book Getting to Maybe: How the World is [...]

Systems folks on Lakoff and systemic causation

The topic of causation is anything but simple, and cognitive linguist George Lakoff has for years been describing and propagating the phrase "systemic causation." Here's Lakoff in a new post, linking Sandy to climate change: Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy - and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as [...]

Eight dimensions of six systems traditions

In this comparison of six systems traditions across eight dimensions, I draw from three sources: Stuart Umpleby’s keynote at the 2012 International Society for the Systems Sciences conference, a video of Eric Dent’s presentation at the 2005 American Society for Cybernetics conference, and the original 1998 Dent and Umpleby paper (pdf). The authors characterize the [...]