Reposted on October 12, 1999, with response from Russell Ackoff appended, plus comment.

Prologue: Purposive People, Causality and Systems Science

Montréal, October 6, 1999

Sir Arthur Eddington formulated Heisenberg's uncertainty principle in the following way;

. . . . . . . . . . . . . "Something unknown is doing we don't know what."

In such an environment, perception and inquiry based on 'causal dynamics' is innately incomplete and purpose and imagination become of primary importance.

This prologue speaks to the appended commentary, in the form of a rhetorical letter to Russell Ackoff, on what appears to be a gaping hole in the systems sciences, .... their tendency to perceive, inquire and regulate systems solely on the basis of 'what is done', while ignoring the domain of 'what is not done'.

Far from being a 'random' domain, ... the domain of 'what is not done' has a huge coherent influence on the evolution of a system. In terms of nature-based metaphor, ... the purposive (attractor-pulled) flow of rivers to the sea has a fundamental influence on the evolution of the landscape. Whereas the rivers of vehicular traffic which flow to the sea, blast their way through mountains and slice rectilinearly through hills and forests, ... the rivers of the snowmelt and the rains have a much gentler way, even when they are angry, ... an aesthetic which is shared with their containing environment. What the natural rivers do is to harmoniously co-optimize their purpose with the opportunities which their containing landscape affords them, ... and what they do not do is be so self-focused that the path to their fulfilment of purpose wreaks great dissonance in their containing environment.

Nature 'knows' that one cannot treat every subsystem as an independent system whose sub-purposes can be independently optimized, ... and this natural 'awareness', ... hidden in 'what is not done', ... is what leads to aesthetic, and harmonious evolution.

Is it possible to manage systems on the sole basis of 'what is done', ... the 'causal dynamics', and still achieve aesthetic and harmonious results? The skilled pool player would respond to this question with an emphatic 'NO', ... since he is aware that what is not done is reciprocal effect which changes the whole containing field of opportunity. If his ball is blocking the pocket that an opponent's ball needs access to, ... by not moving his ball, he changes the field of opportunity for himself and everyone. This reciprocal 'opportunity configuration' has an overriding effect on how the game 'plays out', ... on the overall system behavior.

In sum, the perception, inquiry and management of our reality in the sole terms of 'what is done' (the tangibles) is radically incomplete. As the theory of relativity and quantum physics suggests, ... our reality behaves as a 'simultaneous unity and plurality' where 'what is done' must be seen as a subordinate aspect of the evolutionary story, and where 'what is not done', ... the reciprocal 'shape' of the opportunity landscape, ... must be seen as the primary aspect. In other words, modern physics supports seeing our reality in terms of a 'simultaneous unity and plurality' in which interference effects (the opportunity landscape) dominates overall system behavior, rather than seeing our reality in terms of a 'sequential unity and plurality' wherein the sequences of causal dynamics (what is done) dominate.

In this regard, as Einstein observed, ... it is important to understand the influences of 'three stages of religious experience' which blend together as a kind of 'field' which shapes 'what is not done' in our society, ... the first based on fear, ... the second on moral dogma, ... and the third on 'cosmic religious feeling' (feeling oneself to be part of the evolutionary whole of nature). So the coherencies (and dissonances) we see in our society have much to do with these 'field effects' which favor certain behaviors and not others, and thus modify the opportunity landscape for everyone. Einstein saw these 'fields' as having an 'inclusionary' nested relationship with fear being contained within morality being contained within cosmic feeling etc, and notes;

"BUT THERE IS A THIRD STAGE OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE [ text highlighting is Einstein's] which belongs to all of them [religious blends of fear and morality all of which have anthropomorphism in common], even though it is rarely found in pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this."

The systems understanding point intended in speaking of these influences on 'not-doing' is, ... if you are shown a map of a river without being shown the 'opportunity landscape' it was coming from, ... the mountains and snow fields, ... the faulted geology it cascaded over, ... its preference for softer sediments and connected valleys, ... could you possibly 'understand' the river in its stand-alone presentation stripped of environmental context? Could you understand why the river had come to behave the way it did?

The point is, the river did not evolve 'in its own right', ... it 'co-evolved' with its reciprocal containing environment and there is no way to separate the understanding of river 'in its own right' and land 'in its own right' and subsequently put these understandings back together to 'understand' the whole. The coevolutionary aspect of nature represents an innately inseparable simultaneous unity and plurality, ... just as the space-time flow of balls in the game of pool coevolves with its containing opportunity landscape, ... the evolving 'shape' of the full ensemble within which it participates. We are certainly free to label things and treat them as distinct according to linguistic convenience, but we cannot impose these distinctions on nature. There remains a fundamental interference between what the river does and the containing environment does not do, ... the environmental landscape opens itself up, in its apparent passivity, ... for the river's actions, ... or it closes itself down. Society, the ensemble of individuals, plays the same type of coevolutional game with the individual. 'What is not done' shapes the opportunity landscape for 'what is done'.

'Systems science', it seems, ... while having made the important upgrade in perception and inquiry from a 'closed system' to an 'open systems' view, ... has not yet embraced this self-referential property, generally inherent in natural phenomena as given by the 'theory of relativity' and 'quantum physics'.

Occasionally, great debate is stirred over the paradox and dysfunction which lie hidden within the western practice of perceiving, inquiring and regulating solely on the basis of 'what is done'. The remainder of this prologue will discuss one such 'stirring', ... the judicial execution by lethal injection of Karla Faye Tucker, ... by presenting a sampling of the troubling thoughts which surfaced, and examining the conflicts in reasoning.

Managing the 'Opportunity Landscape', .. the shape of 'what is not done':

Governor George Bush supports capital punishment as a deterrent to crime. It therefore follows that he believes that 'the intangible' (the 'opportunity/disopportunity' landscape of the social container) can pre-determine or 'pre-influence' 'the tangible', ... the physical behavior of the system. In other words, ... implicit in Bush's actions is the belief that something more than 'what is done' (more than causal dynamics) shapes the behavior of the system of society, ... that it is not just 'what we do' that influences social behavior, but our understanding and awareness of the 'opportunity landscape' which contains us. (i.e. the existence of favored and disfavored channels).

In Governor Bush's case, ... his focus seems to follow the western penchant for putting cause-based negative messaging (suppression and repression of undesired actions) in the primacy over purposive 'modeling' (cultivation of positive harmonies), ... a primacy opposite to the way of the aboriginals and of (some) eastern cultures.

According to psychologists, however, "Children model their behavior primarily on the behavior of their parents and other authority figures. Whether or not this behavior is effective at producing happiness doesn't prevent the child from modeling it; the modeling is not a result of reasoning, but is due to simple observation and imitation. This mimicry is illustrated in the old saying "Like father, like son," or now better put, "Like parent, like child." Whether parents are happy or not doesn't stop a child from imitating what he or she observes; children are like dry sponges ready to absorb the first water they come in contact with."

What Bush did not do, in the case of Karla Faye Tucker, ... the fact that he did not exercise leniency in spite of massive worldwide protest, ... does a considerable amount for the shaping of the opportunity landscape, ... not only in having youth model this primacy of suppression and repression over positive modeling, ... but also in inducing opportunity channels for himself to move through on his way to the U.S. presidency.

A sampling of commentaries which struggle with the issues surrounding Karla Faye's execution follow;


"As her execution date nears, Ms. Tucker has drawn support from a sister of one of the victims, a juror in her case, and former prosecutors. No less nettlesome for Bush, a potential candidate for the presidency who values the political support of religious conservatives, is the campaign being waged by national television evangelist Pat Robertson, who says he is not opposed to the death penalty but has urged the governor to exercise "compassion" and spare Ms. Tucker's life. ... And Gov. Bush, who has never pardoned, commuted or even delayed a death sentence during his tenure, has given no signals that he has leniency on his mind. "The gender of the murderer did not make any difference to the victims," said the governor's spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, who added that Bush asks two primary questions in his review of commutation petitions: Is there any question about the individual's guilt, and has the individual had fair access to the courts and a full hearing on all legal issues? "

"Much of Ms. Tucker's life is recounted in a book, "Crossed Over: The True Story of the Houston Pickax Murders," by novelist Beverly Lowry, who described Ms. Tucker as "a doper at 8, a needle freak behind heroin by the time she was 11," who first had sex at the age of 11 or 12 and later became a prostitute. "My mother and I were really close," Ms. Tucker recounted in the book. "We used to share drugs like lipstick." . . . "I was crying out, I mean crying out, for attention," she said, and she remembered feeling envy, even at the age of 8, for a neighborhood girl whose parents took her to church regularly." . . . ."I was a very young, impressionable child at that point and had they just cared enough to reach out, you never know. I'm telling anybody who's out there, there are things you can do to save a child from going down that road." But, she quickly added, she did go down that road, and she made decisions for which there are consequences. ""


"It has been two months since Karla Faye Tucker, the axe killer turned born-again Christian, was executed for a murder she committed 14 years before her death. But the haunting spectre of her execution and the debate it caused still linger."

"We have to give juries the option of life without the possibility of parole," Ellis said. "If, after they have reviewed all the facts and heard all the testimony, the jury still gives the death penalty, that is their choice. But right now some death sentences are handed down because our juries don't believe a criminal is going to stay behind bars."

"Texas is one of only 11 states that doesn't give juries the option of life without parole. Since 1982, when Texas reinstated the death penalty, 147 people have been executed. That's one third of all executions in the United States."

"The continuing controversy over the Texas death penalty is due as much to other events as to Tucker's death. The recent killings at a Jonesboro, Ark., school convinced one Waxahachie lawmaker that Texas laws aren't strong enough. Republican state Rep. Jim Pitts said he will push a change in Texas law that will allow children as young as 11 to be sentenced to death -- even if that means establishing a sort of kiddie death row to keep them separated from adult convicts. Texas law prohibits the execution of anyone younger than 17."


"Robert Carter was the last person to be executed on 18 May in Texas. He was not only a juvenile offender, but he also received poor legal representation at his trial, and was diagnosed as mentally retarded and seriously brain damaged; he was also abused as a child. On 3 February Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863."

"If you examine an analysis of the background of those put to death, in the overwhelming majority of cases they are black, educationally deprived and mentally retarded. In other words, they are classic victims."

"In considering the violence of American society we must remember the glorification of the gun and the political lobby which supports it. In the run up to President Clinton's election the death penalty became a popular issue and he signed an execution warrant because it helped him politically."

UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva on 16 March 1997:

" ... there is strong evidence that the death penalty is applied disproportionately to those who are least able to defend themselves, to the most vulnerable in society - the poor, the mentally disturbed and members of racial, religious or ethnic minorities. Those individuals may be less able to function effectively within the criminal justice system. They may not possess sufficient knowledge or financial resources to defend themselves properly; indeed, the legal or judicial system in place may reflect a negative attitude to them by those who hold power."

... Can any system of justice, no matter how carefully elaborated, be one hundred per cent proof against human frailty? Amnesty International has quoted Lafayette who said in 1830 "I shall ask for the abolition of the death penalty until I have the infallibility of human judgement demonstrated to me"."


Karla Faye claims that what 'got her there' emanated from 'what was not done', ... from the landscape of opportunity which she found herself in and behavioral profiles she modeled to. Her behavior as an eight year old speaks in support of this claim.

Governor George Bush, not as burdened with self-doubt on human judgement as Lafayette seemed to be, sees the issue in the crisp terms of causal 'facts', in terms of 'what was done', ... out of the context of 'shape' and 'evolution', as the tidiness of his inquiry indicated; "Is there any question about the individual's guilt, and has the individual had fair access to the courts and a full hearing on all legal issues? "

Bush evidently believes in trying to sculpt the shape of what is not done, ... the opportunity landscape, ... with the tool of 'what is done', ... the execution by lethal injection. But the channelling which enables 'what is done' follows from sculpting of 'what is not done', ... as Karla Faye's life experience has indicated. Do we have a chicken and egg problem here?

The 'chicken and egg problem' (of 'which came first'), ... emanates from seeing the system as a 'SEQUENTIAL unity and plurality' ruled by causal dynamics. But how we perceive the shape of the opportunity landscape comes from our imagination. It is based on intangible interference patterns, ... by bringing a multitude of real and imaginary experiences into connection in our minds. Actions and non-actions simultaneously change these interference patterns, and everything that we do is first imagined, ... actions spring forth from imagination.

There seems to be a general (social) systems principle here, ... in that it is the cultivation of interference patterns (imagination) which needs to be put in the primacy over action-based management. Managing on the simplistic basis of cause and effect equates to the disregarding of imagination (interference pattern recognition). This is the way of the poor pool player, ... the player who sees everything in terms of crisp shot-making and fails to consider the interference patterns being simultaneously evolved, from which shot-making opportunities are induced.

What Bush is doing, in the Karla Faye Tucker affair, is sending out a message to; "manage according to the simple facts of 'what is done', ... that imagination must be subordinate to the facts of what 'has been done'", ... and all the while imagining that his non-act of leniency will have the conservative public imagining him to be 'the man' for the presidency, .... and leaving eight year olds with a leadership profile of non-imaginative repression-suppression to model after.

The 'scientific treatment' of these social systems management issues follows, in the form of a previously written (yesterday) note to one of the prominent figures in the systems sciences, Russell Ackoff. Ackoff is into his eightieth year and has contributed much to improved understanding of complexity. Meanwhile, ... reputations stand behind established scientific theory like granite pillars, and my intent, rather than to criticise what has been done, ... is to keep the ball rolling, ... hence the rhetorical form of the 'letter'.

Purposive People, Causality and Systems Science

Montréal, October 5, 1999

An open note to Russell Ackoff:

Dear Russ,

I wanted to share with you some 'systems visualizations' of common experiences and get your ideas on them. ... at the same time, ... this note to you is really rhetorical and I don't expect an answer (thus I shall speak 'to' you in the third person), ... but I am discovering that setting up a tension between issues being explored and one's potential fellow dialoguers (who are generally too busy to dialogue) is a useful thing to do. In this case, ... I am very interested in how 'systems science' would approach the topic in this note, ... which I have been inclined to approach in terms of physics (relativity and quantum duality). If you do answer, that would be 'gravy', from my perspective and I would append your answer to this posting.



* * *

On cold, damp afternoons, out on the tip of Point Gray, students pour out of classrooms and converge from all sides onto a square open-air terrace in the center of the Buchanan building-complex, ... their purpose, ... to get to their next class as quickly as possible, ... perhaps pulled by the thought of reuniting with classmates, ... or to gorge themselves on new knowledge, ... or maybe just to re-enter into the warmth and dryness.

It is a common experience that one does something deliberate to the state of one's consciousness as one approaches such a terrace, ... a switching off of the frontal lobe whose well-meaning efforts would quickly put a wrench in the gearworks. I suspect it is a feeling everyone has, when approaching this type of situation, ... otherwise, we'd all still be back on those terraces and traffic circuses, ... playing pinball or bumper cars.

One day when I was making 'the crossing', ... an engineering friend who had accompanied me who was seeing the place for the first time (the Buchanan building was in the 'Arts Zone'), ... asked me, incredulous, ... how does this work?, ... how do all these people make it across without colliding? I just nodded and smiled out an 'indeed', thinking at the same time that it should have been me asking him the question, ... since he often chided me for being in 'science', ... portraying it as just a loosey-goosey version of engineering.

Having had about forty years to think about this (generic) question of 'the terrace crossing', ... I believe I am coming close to an understanding of it, in terms of the theory of relativity and quantum physics [1], ... but how does this mesh with and/or clash with the 'systems sciences' view?

The first, salient piece of evidence, which was well-known to me then, was the avoidance of eye-contact in a 'lock-on' sense. Somehow, sustained eye-contact kept you in 'two-body' calculation mode. When you locked eyes with someone else, and tried to manage your trajectory on that basis, ... you could easily get 'out of harmony' with the others, ... and take the lockee out as well. On the other hand, ... if you took your frontal lobe 'out of gear', and left your intuition in the drivers seat, which seemed to go hand in hand with no sustained 'eye-contact' or sustained 'perspective', ... and abandoned yourself to purpose, everything seemed to work, but how did it work?

As it now appears, one bumps up against the 'three body problem' here, ... and the same feeling that Newton got when he ran across this problem. As he put it, ... "An exact solution for three bodies, exceeds, if I am not mistaken, the force of any human mind". Of course, it was not an 'exact solution' that one was looking for in the 'terrace crossing', .... one could stand a bit of fuzziness and trade off some time against a bit of space (and vice versa) and give up a few compass degrees on the point of emergence, ... and perhaps this 'fuzziness' was what allowed the mind to somehow come up with solution patterns which were harmonious and, ... well, ... aesthetically flavored rather than engineering flavored. The Buchanan terrace solution was closer to Swan Lake than to Clapham Junction, ... closer to Tschaikowsky than to John Phillip Sousa.

Now there is also this aspect which Ackoff has apparently brought up in the context of a child solving the 'maze' problem by starting from the 'outlet' (the answer) and working one's way back, which simplifies the problem considerably. There is no doubt, when confronted with the terrace crossing type of situation, ... that one imagines the result of being already at the outlet and letting this feeling or imagery pull one towards the solution, rather than seeing the task as a series of 'interception' or 'collision avoidance' problems which have to be solved. I suspect that this gets us to Nietzsche's point that "The belief in cause collapses with the belief in purpose." Taking one's frontal lobe out of gear and letting intuition or one's 'relational intelligence' slip into the driver's seat seems to represent this incompatibility of perceiving things in terms of 'cause' versus 'purpose', suggested by Nietzsche.

Ackoff's 'maze' observation seems to be operating in multi-dimensional mode in this terrace crossing problem. As in the game of billiards, ... there are multiple 'outlets' on the periphery which act as 'attractors'. Since people are not fussy about what point of the compass, within a few degrees, they emerge at, ... one could even say that the 'containing space' which immerses the terrace IS the attractor.

Classical science, 'the way we do things around here' in western society, as contrasted with Ackoff and systems science, ... proceeds with an 'understanding of how things work' by abstracting a subset of the problem and explaining it in a causal sense. Classical science has no tools for directly addressing 'the pull of the containing space'.

Now any sub-playing-field of potential collisions and channel fairways we may want to explore on the terrace are continually exposed to an 'evolutionary force' represented by the 'pull of the container', ... and this is a problem in doing any causal calculations on the subset, because there is no independent subset which I can consider to be a closed system, ... the place where classical computation starts. This is relativistic, curved space-time here on the terrace, ... just as it is in the case of the game of pool, ... but this time, things don't reflect off the banks to simulate balls rolling around on the outside surface of a sphere, ... this time new entities keep appearing on the fringe of any subset which commence to disturb the subset and interfere with the calculations.

How does 'systems science' handle this, ... I wonder?, ... is it consistent with curved space and relativity?

According to Martine Dodds-Taljaard, an associate of Ackoff's, Russ has made a number of observations which depart from the classical, causal view, which include abandoning the classical notion of causality. As he points out, .. where causality assumes that in the case where X causes Y, ... the occurrence of X is a necessary and sufficient condition for the occurence of Y and since it's necessary and sufficient, ... and says we don't have to consider anything else, .. this doesn't jibe with the cause and effect relationship between an acorn and an oak tree, ... where environmental context is important.

We seem to be in agreement here, and the problem can be expressed in terms of there being no 'closed system' subset in this terrace crossing problem, or anywhere else in nature, come to think of it, ... a 'closed system' being an 'unnatural' approximation of the nature of things.

Ackoff says, in fact; "therefore, the concept of the environment was irrelevant in classical science. this is apparent if you look at the concept of a laboratory. A laboratory is deliberately constructed so that anything outside of it is irrelevant, and the whole effort of science is to break the world up into relations which can be studied in isolation, independently of their environment. Using modern language, this approach gave rise to what we would call ' a closed system' view of the world.. That becomes apparent when we look at how we conceive the world as a whole....."

Ok, ... we are together on the 'closed system' problems and where Ackoff uses 'environment', I tend to use 'container' which, for me, gives more of a notion of 'mutual inclusion', ... wherein the container and its constituents SIMULTANEOUSLY CO-OCCUPY space-time, as in the case of a magnetic field and iron filings. This mutually inclusive relationship of space (the ether) and matter is the geometry which exists in the theory of relativity. So, what about the notions of 'self-referential', curved space-time and 'reciprocal disposition' which Einstein spoke about, and which give rise to 'container-content-coevolution' as in the game of pool? Does Ackoff embrace this, or not?, ... I wonder.

He has said that; "Systems consist of a set of parts, a collection of elements, which must satisfy three conditions. Firstly, the performance of the whole is affected by every one of the parts - that is a basic characteristic of a system. If you think of a corporation as a system, which it is, this means that every department can affect the performance of the corporation. That is the first condition for membership in a system. The second essential characteristic of a system is that the way any part affects the whole depends on what at least one other part is doing. Or to put it another way, no part of the system has an independent effect on the whole. ...... Third condition is the most complex one, and the most important. It says that if you take these elements and group them in any way to form sub-groups, these sub-groups will be subject to the same first and second conditions as the original elements were, ie. each sub-group will affect the performance as a whole, and no sub-group will have an independent effect on the performance of the whole. " . . . " If you put those three conditions together, a surprising thing emerges. a system is an indivisible WHOLE. And it is in the difference between an indivisible part and an indivisible whole that the roots of the intellectual revolution lie. "

Up to this point, the systems thinking and the relativity-based thinking appear to be consistent, except perhaps, for this one nagging little 'loophole' of mutual inclusion which seems to re-raise its head where he says; "The second essential characteristic of a system is that the way any part affects the whole depends on what at least one other part is doing. Or to put it another way, no part of the system has an independent effect on the whole."

This is the point where Newton twisted off from Kepler's bigger idea of the precedence of multi-body (simultaneous) harmony over two-body (sequential) harmony. If we implicitly limit the problem to the 'two-body' problem, ... we simplify things considerably by avoiding the three-body problem, ... but we effectively fall back into the causal domain once again. The key issue here is whether we want to see phenomena in terms of a 'field' which IS and which influences its constituents, as in the case of electromagnetism, ... or whether we want to view problems in a purely materialistic way, ... where we see space as being 'empty' (euclidian) and the contents of space being all we have to worry about.

Perhaps this question, of how Ackoff implicitly handles this issue will become clearer in the further review of Martine's citations of Ackoff.

In terms of how to 'think' about 'how things work', ... Ackoff says;

"Up- and -down-thinking:

The first essential difference is the conversion of our preoccupation with the parts of which things are made, to a preoccupation with the whole and with the wholes of which THEY are a part. We can refer to this new point of view as 'expansionism', based on the concept of a system. It has given rise to a new kind of thinking which I will call synthesis, or, as it is more popularly known, the systems approach or systems thinking. [ ... cites references to 'The Systems Approach' by C. Wes Churchman and 'Systems Thinking', by Fred Emery.]

. . ."Let me describe the shift and then show you its significance. Remember, in analysis, if you had something you wanted to explain, you took it apart, explained the parts, and put the explanation of the parts back together gain. In synthesis, when you want to explain something, you do exactly the opposite. You don't look at the thing to be explained as a whole to be taken apart, but as part of a larger whole. You attempt to explain the whole of which it is a part, and then extract an explanation of the thing you started with from an explanation of the whole.

... "This is up-and-down-again-thinking, as opposed to down-and-up-again-thinking. ....lastly, a very important counter-intuitive hypothesis which has a fundamental impact on our notion of how to run things in this world. ..."

Well, Ackoff goes on to explain suboptimization where one optimizes a part out of the context of the whole, ... the bane of the western culture which has become, unfortunately, very familiar to us all; e.g. optimizing insect killer out of the context of the effect of the toxin on the containing environment and its water recycling roles, .... optimizing transportation via gasoline engines out of the context of atmospheric oxygen recycling systems etc., .... BUT, he still seems to be talking about 'cause' in 'linear time and euclidian space terms', ... only in an inverted sense now, ... from whole to part instead of from part to whole, ... and failing to account for 'mutual inclusion' as in the simultaneous change of 'reciprocal disposition' with any movement of any part of the system, ... failing to make the shift to 'relativistic dynamics' which include 'causal dynamics' as a special case subset. That is, as he said earlier, ... each part effects the whole; ... "Firstly, the performance of the whole is affected by every one of the parts - that is a basic characteristic of a system.", ... but he continues to omit whether or not he is going for the Heraclitean or Aristotelian flavor of this 'affect'; i.e. Heraclitus opted for 'simultaneous unity and plurality', ... as in the theory of relativity and the game of pool (as seen by the skilled player), .... while Aristotle opted for 'sequential unity and plurality', as in the view of phenomena as being a succession of events (euclidian space and linear time).

This is the same point on which Newton split off from Kepler, ... Kepler opting for 'simultaneous unity and plurality' and Newton opting for 'sequential unity and plurality'.

So which is it to be, Russ? .... simultaneous mutual inclusion which keeps space-time intact?, ... or sequential mutual exclusion, a degenerate form or 'special case' which splits apart space and time and drops us back into non-relativistic euclidian space?

Come to think of it, the answer to this question is kind of implied in the insertion of the words 'and' and 'again' in Ackoff's statement ; "... up- and- down- again- thinking, as opposed to down- and- up- again- thinking, ... and also in his statement; "The second essential characteristic of a system is that the way any part affects the whole depends on what at least one other part is doing. Or to put it another way, no part of the system has an independent effect on the whole."

The former statement implies sequentiality of 'affect' rather than 'whole-and-part' 'affect'. And the latter statement also implies sequentiality. In a relativistic curved-space system, ... as in the game of pool, ... there is only CO-EFFECT, ... when one part moves, ... all other parts are simultaneously affected because 'space is a participant'. This is clear in the terrace crossing problem as well as the game of pool; i.e. the 'opportunity space' (navigational configuration) for each and every part is simultaneously modified by the movement of any part.

One must conclude, ... on the basis of this rather brief review, as least, .... that Ackoff's systems science sees 'the intellectual revolution' ("And it is in the difference between an indivisible part and an indivisible whole that the roots of the intellectual revolution lie.") not in terms of 'container-content-coeffect' as demanded by the theory of relativity [1], ... but in the more limited terms of moving from the 'closed system' approximation to the 'open system' approximation while retaining a non-relativistic Aristotelian-Euclidian phenomenal framing for 'how the world works', ... that is, remaining on Erich Jantsch's ('Design for Evolution') second 'mythological' level of perception and inquiry.

* * *


Response received via Martine Dodds-Taljaard from Russell Ackoff on October 12, 1999

From: Interact etc.

Date sent: Mon, 11 Oct 1999 15:13:56 EDT

Subject: (Fwd) forward to russell ackoff?

To: Martine

Dear Martine

Unfortunately, I have more commitments than I can meet. I just can't take on a detailed reply to Lumley although he deserves one. He should publish in Systems Practice and see what reaction, if any, he gets.

He misinterprets several things I can only mention here without going into in depth. A system is not indivisible it he same sense as a physical or chemical element is. A system can be divided physically and even functionally, but when it is, it loses its defining function. It appears to me, but I could be wrong, the Lumley does not fully understand teleology--function and purpose. A glance at ON PURPOSEFUL SYSTEMS might help.

My warmest regards,



Comment on Ackoff Response:

First off, I very much appreciate the response, ... it was gracious, ... more than I had hoped for, ... and providing some further areas to look into. .... Thanks!

The bootstrapping approach used to develop the reasoning in the original letter to Ackoff comprehends issues of 'purpose' within the overall bootstrapped context. Purpose thus does not emerge as a separate issue in the approach but is, in a sense, 'built in'.

Although operating a bit in the dark on what Russell Ackoff intends in regard to 'purpose', ... I can try to sketch out how purpose comes in, in the original proposition/question, ... by speaking against the backdrop of excerpts from Ackoff;

* * *

"In 1889 there was a philosopher of science at the university of Pennsylviania who began writing a book, that , like Langer's, was almost completely ignored. It made two fundamental points about the nature of science. The man's name was E.A. Singer, Jr. he pointed out two things. First, he pointed out that science didn't follow its own doctrine, that we were using the term 'cause and effect' in two very different ways when we said that striking a bell in a vacuum will not produce a sound, and when we said that oaks come from acorns. "

"When we talk about the bell and sound, we are talking about cause and effect in the sense of the cause being both necessary and sufficient, but when we talk about an acorn and an oak, we are clearly not talking about classical cause and effect.It is true that you cannot have an oak without an acorn. An acorn is clearly necessary to an oak, but it is NOT SUFFICIENT. If I take an acorn and put it on the bottom of the ocean, I won't get an oak tree. I won't get an oak if I put an acorn on top of a rock or in soil with no water - all sorts of other things are necessary;. Therefore, an acorn is a necessary but not a sufficient cause."

"Singer argued that this is another kind of relationship. He sometimes referred to it as 'probabalistic causality' or 'non-deterministic causality' but he finally chose to call it 'producer-product' because we say that an acorn is a producer of an oak rather than the cause of it. This is another way of looking at the world, said Singer. It is not incompatible with looking at it through the eyes of cause and effect, but it is a different way. "

[This represents the same sphere-englobing-sphere evolution of theory as described by Einstein as discussed elsewhere in these website essays]

"Then he went to look at the consequences of looking at the world as through the relationship between things were producer-product rather than cause and effect relationships. Two very important consequences emerged. The first is that if you start to look for the producer of an oak, which is your 'Y', and you find the acorn which produced it, you still have not explained that oak simply by identifying the acorn. You also have to talk about the climatic conditions, the soil and all the rest of it - you must consider the environment."

"So Singer discovered that environment is relevant the moment that one changes one's concentration from cause and effect to producer-product. More important, he was able to solve the principal paradox of the machine age, how do we explain free will or purposeful behavior? if the world is a machine, completely dictated by laws that never change, how can anything have free choice? .... now what Singer showed was that if you begin to look at the world through the eyes of producer-product, a very fundamental change occurs. Free will and purposeful behavior become compatible with science. You can study and explain them scientifically, which you could not do with the mechanistic view."

[Ackoff refers to a german biologist called Gerd Sommerhoff who in 1950 wrote a book called 'analytical biology' in which he made the same rediscovery, independently of Singer.]

"Sommerhoff used different words. he used the term 'directive correlation' instead of producer-product. he was equally ignored, It as only about 5 years from the time he published that book until science suddenly understood what was going on, and that discovery occurred for very curious reason."

"Norbert Wiener, had as his principle collaborator, a physiologist in Mexico name Arturo Rosenblueth. In the middle 1950's, when they were trying to develop some of the notions of cybernetics, they made an incredible discovery. They pointed out that historically when we wanted to understand man, we treated him as though he were a machine - that was what the machine age was all about. But what Wiener and Rosenbluth showed was that if you wanted to understand the new self-controlling machines, you had to look at them as though they were men. They argued that the only way you could get to understand such machines was by considering their PURPOSES. Well, that was a shocking notion, because science was completely unprepared to deal with purposes. And it was at that point that work of Sommerhoff and Singer was rediscovered...."

".... Two very startling things have occurred as a result of this change in the view of the world, The first is the recognition that problems do not exist." "What does this mean? William James, had observed at the end of the 19th century, that people don't start a day's work with problems. he said what a person is confronted with at the beginning of the day is something he called a "great big buzzing confusion." His principal student, John Dewey, changed the term, making it incomprehensible he called it 'an indeterminate situation."

... "what you do to the environment affects what it does to you."

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The above excerpts seem to reinforce agreements on system 'whole-and-part' relationships more than anything. In a self-referential system, as in, for example, iron-filings in a magnetic field, ...which would be in agreement with the very last quote on self-referentiality between 'container and constituent'; "what you do to the environment affects what it does to you.", there is still this question of the 'timing' of affect, ... i.e. is it simultaneous? .... or is it sequential?

In relativistic space-time, .... it is simultaneous because the 'opportunity landscape' accompanies any and all movement (irrespective of MATERIAL-CAUSAL dynamics, ... just as the change in an electric field ACCOMPANIES [is simultaneous with] change in the magnetic field), ..... leaving some options for action closed down and others opened up, as in the game of pool. But it is also possible to view this self-referentiality in the sequential terms of 'action and reaction'. This is the matter-oriented view rather than the 'field-oriented' view.

As discussed elsewhere in these essays, ... the field oriented view 'contains' the matter-oriented view, but the reverse cannot be done, ... hence the importance to put 'field' in the primacy over matter, ... and opt for 'simultaneous unity and plurality' in a primacy over 'sequential unity and plurality'.

The notion of 'opportunity shape' comes naturally from 'reciprocal disposition' in relativistic space-time, ... and therefore 'purpose' can be seen in the more comprehensive terms of how the 'shape' of purpose fits into the 'shape' of the opportunity landscape. This is a notion which has the same kind of 'container-constituent' relationship, with respect to evolution of conceptual models, to the notion of 'purpose' per se.

Thus, if one opts for 'relativistic, finite, curved space-time' and 'field-over-matter', ... this seems to force the choice of 'simultaneous unity and plurality' which yields the notions of a reciprocal 'opportunity landscape' and purpose 'having a shape' or 'co-shape' relative to the 'opportunity landscape' as in the game of pool.

These notions of 'shaped opportunity' and 'shaped purpose' (relative to opportunity) are not apparent in the Singer etc. vantage point, ... nor are they in conflict with it, ... though they are more information-bearing than the notions of 'purpose' as a directional force and 'opportunity' as an absence of barriers.

The 'shape' consideration seems also to associate with Einstein's comments;

"It [relativity] forces us to analyze the role played by geometry in the description of the physical world. . . . the strength of the theory lies in its inner consistency and the simplicity of its fundamental assumptions. The theory of relativity stresses the importance of the field concept in physics. But we have not yet succeeded in formulating a pure field physics. For the present we must still assume the existence of both: field and matter."

In summarizing this note, then, ... In the domain of purpose and opportunity, ... it is apparent that how and where we assume the primacy of 'field-over-matter' versus 'matter-over-field' makes a fundamental difference, and this brings us back to the question as to 'which primacy assumption do we make' in the systems sciences?



[1] Relationship between the relativistic 'simultaneous unity and plurality' and the non-relativistic 'sequential unity and plurality' modes of perception and inquiry as viewed through the implications of Gödel's Theorem.

Le Théoreme de Gödel et la Théorie de la Relativité

Résumé: Dans un reseau (un ensemble) auto-repérant limité, on ne peut pas parvenir a l'harmonie simultané parmi le tout et les parties par l'introduction d'un bruit. C'est a dire, ... on ne peut pas éliminer le bruit par le bruit. Ce qui est nécessaire, c'est que chaque partie se répere a l'espace commun qui l'englobe. Dans un reseau conscient (une équipe, par exemple), une modele commune de contrariété peut etre imaginé par tous les éléments de l'ensemble, ... ce qui sert pour organiser pas seulement les réponses collectives des elements, ... mais d'organiser aussi les manques intentionels de réponses (c'est a dire les reponses reciproques et non-causale.). L'oeuvre 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' de Ludwig Wittgenstein, qui était a l'origine de la Théoreme de Gödel se conclut avec la proposition "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." Les 'silences' (les manques de réponses ou les réponses reciproques) bien situées, constituent les réponses 'imaginaires' tirées d'une visualisation de la relativité parmi le tout et les parties de l'ensemble, par contraste avec lés réponses réelles tirées des comportements réels. Donc, relativement a l'espace rélativiste (auto-repérant), Gödel's Theorem parle de l'incomplétude de la causalité, ... la causalité soyante le sous-moyen special de reglementation d'un systeme dont l'imagination va a zéro.

Gödel's Theorem and the Theory of Relativity

Abstract: In a finite, self-referential network (ensemble), it is impossible to achieve a simultaneous harmony amongst the whole and all of the parts by the introduction of a corrective regulatory signal (a calculated 'noise' which seeks to remove noise.). That is to say, ... one cannot eliminate noise with noise. What is necessary is that each part of the network reference itself to the common space which englobes the network. In a 'conscious' network (a team, for example), a common model of interference can be imagined by all of the team members (i.e. by all of the elements in the ensemble), ... which serves to organise, not only the collective responses of the members, ... but to organise, as well, the intentional lack of response (i.e. reciprocal and non-causal responses). The work 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' by Ludwig Wittgenstein, which was at the origin of Gödel's theorem, concludes with the proposition "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence." The well-allocated 'silences' (the lacks of response; i.e. the reciprocal responses) constitute 'imaginary response' derived from a visualisation of the relationships amongst the whole-and-part, in contrast to real responses derived from real behaviors of the system. Thus, with respect to relativistic space-time (self-referential space), Gödel's Theorem speaks to the incompleteness of causality, ... causality being the special sub-means of system regulation wherein imagination goes to zero.

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