"Indigenous Wisdom and its Lessons for the Systems Sciences"
Prepared at Dallas, January 29, 2000
This presentation is emerging from a collaborative effort by myself, Martine Dodds-Taljaard, Paul Swann and Jan Wyllie and our web associates. The full essay-presentation will be posted at www.goodshare.org when available. An overview of the ISSS Congress is appended below the abstract.
The bottom line content is that in self-referential systems (the game of pool is an example) the 'snookering' of opportunity is a more fundamental influence on the evolution of the system and its behaviors than material causal transactions. Since 'snookering effects' are implicit, relational interference effects, even though they 'gate' the flow of causal transactions, do have no directly associated tangible measures. Inquiry capable of accounting for snookering effects requires complex informational units (imaginary components) and conversely, inquiry based solely on causal transactions is fundamentally deficient. The inquiry traditions of indigenous peoples capture space-time phase information and account for relational interference 'snookering' effects. The suggestion is thus to borrow from this indigenous wisdom.
Abstract: "Indigenous Wisdom and its Lessons for the Systems Sciences"
Our global, socio-ecological container continues to suffer from deepening dysfunction symptomatic of a homo sapiens- based 'Acquired System Inquiry Deficiency Syndrome' ('ASIDS'). ASIDS is an affliction which clears the way for its own rampant spread and entrenchment by purging our inquiry of the self-referential capabilities needed to identify itself --- our mode of inquiry --- as the culprit.
Our children and our children's children are being infected with this ASIDS condition through our system of education and through the tendency of youth to model the ASIDS-infected behaviors of authority figures. Ironically, in the face of rising dysfunction, we are being induced to use our deficient inquiry still more aggressively, in an attempt to quell the dysfunction that it, itself, is causing. To borrow from Shakespeare, ... our defective inquiry 'makes hungry where most it satisfies', setting up the 'vicious cycle' of addiction/dysfunction that we are currently experiencing.
The root of the dysfunction lies in the unnatural 'inverted' subordination of our common sense to our powers of linear abstraction. Our common sense perception, validated by indigenous wisdom, is that an environment and its constituency SIMULTANEOUSLY COEVOLVE through the relative motion of its constituents. The patterns of relational interference between constituent purpose and container-based opportunity are thus transformed.
Container-constituent environments can be visualized in the relativistic imagery of "the rainforest creating its own climate", wherein a 'topography of opportunity' emerges co-dynamically from relative, container-constituent movement. This relativistic opportunity landscape constitutes a 'medium' which differentially 'opens up' and 'closes down' opportunity for its constituents and serves as both 'material substance' and 'gating mechanism' for the flow of causal transactions.
This same self-referential geometry applies in the domain of information and communications; i.e. McLuhan's 'medium is the message' and Illich's 'silence as a commons' both imply that the evolving informational 'canvas' constitutes both substance ('content') and 'gating mechanism' for information flow. Thus communications media, like rainforests, create their own containing 'climates', forming coevolutionary systems whose powers of transformation overshadow their delivery of explicit 'product' or 'content'.
Modeling this relativistic self-referential co-dynamic in the 'physical commons' and in the 'informational commons' requires 'complex' (real + imaginary) informational entities. However, our western powers of abstraction, linearized by the simplistic, imagination- purging convention of euclidian space (materialism), lead to visualizations of 'the way the world works' which lack the space-time phase information associated with the 'whole-and-part harmony' aspect of nature. Inquiry and management-response for dealing with multiple, interfering systems so as to convert potentials for discord into 'whole-and-part harmony' is precluded without access to space-time phase information.
The traditions of Native North Americans and other indigenous peoples embody full-capability (complex information based) systems inquiry processes (e.g. sharing circles) which transcend the informational incompleteness that has allowed ASIDS to sustain and perpetuate itself. As in the historical case of rampant phylloxera in the vineyards of europe, ... an opportunity presents itself to graft western style community initiatives onto the more robust 'systems rootstock' of indigenous tradition.
In order to break the vicious cycle which continues to build its stranglehold, and which leads to the fruits of our social transformation efforts 'dying on the vine', ... an expeditious replacement of the infected 'systems rootstock' with the robust indigenous strain is indicated. The most effective area of application for this rootstock replacement would appear to be Vygotsky's 'zone of proximal development', where spontaneous inquiry into the nature of space-time jousts with structured knowledge imposition - that is, in youth education.
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Comment on Abstract: Harmony of Whole-and-Part Versus Newton's First Law
The inference in this essay on indigenous wisdom and systems inquiry is that 'what is not done' due to the snookering effects we inflict on our containing 'otherness' as we pursue our causal transaction management, ... has a more powerful transformational effect on our containing environment than 'what is done', ... how might this be?
Intuitively, we can see that when we start controlling our local environment, we get out of whack, in a relational interference sense, with 'other' parts or subsystems, and since we are 'sharing a common containing space' with other systems with other 'purposes', by not 'tuning in' to the opportunity they need to support their purpose, we 'snooker' both them and ourselves since we depend on them to 'do their thing' as well. In other words, by suppressing opportunity, discord develops, ... no matter how nice our controlled part is looking, things become discordant along the boundaries of control. The Mississippi levees will not hold forever, no matter how many additional billions of dollars are spent, and the great river will one day bypass New Orleans and go through the Atchafalaya swamp.
Ok, we know how to create discord, ... but what is the source of the harmony in nature?
As Kepler pointed out, the universe 'adorns' matter with harmony of 'whole-and-part'. In the solar system, as Kepler puts it, .. the planets, resonating in their orbits, must 'give way' [nachgeben] to each other in order to satisfy the harmony of whole-and-part of the 'whole' system.
The source of natural harmony is therefore 'outside-in', ... 'space adorns matter with whole-and-part harmony' (Kepler). Even at the level of basic particles, there is an 'outside-in' relational dynamic, ... as Henry Stapp (Quantum Physicist at Berkeley) says, ... "an elementary particle is not an independently existing, unanalyzeable entity. It is, in essence, a set of relationships that reach outward to other things."
Now Stapp's observation is equivalent, in a fundamental way, to Kepler's description of the solar system, ... implying that NO material thing is an independent entity, but instead owes its movements to its containing space, ... and the movement it owes must, by all appearances, ultimately form part of a whole-and-part harmony. This is the 'debt' of matter to its containing space incurred in its emergent birth from space. That this dept is in fact 'paid' is evident by looking at our planet earth, ... our planet is not blown apart by the independent movement of its parts. Sure, we can say in our usual term-inventing way that 'gravity holds it together', but this 'after the fact, invent a concept to explain it' answer is not a 'big enough' answer. Our planet earth is itself part of a whole and part harmonic system and it is twisting and turning through space in a coordinated dance with its brother and sister planets. To say that matter on earth is 'held together' by gravity says nothing about the fact that each piece of matter, including us, is, as the Ojibway saying goes, '.. at the same time [as we are focusing on our 'local problems'], being blown across the heavens by a great wind', ... a very particular and harmonic wind which brings us together with the other things into a whole-and-part harmonic unity.
Where can we find this fact, arrived at by common sense relational reasoning, in Newton's laws? ... it is nowhere to be found. In fact, Newton stated his first law; "Every body persists in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it."
Is this not total bullshit? How can we say this when the universe is expanding, when everything is related to everything else in a whole-and-part harmonic way, ... when we are rotating and revolving across the sky, moving as part of resonant system which is part of larger, containing resonant systems, ... and this all comes together in spite of the independence of 'things'?
And this bullshit statement; "... unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it",.. is this not an invitation for us all to become control-by-force freaks? ... if we don't do it, who will?, ... no-one according to this first law of Newton's. That is, 'no-one' or 'no-thing' which is referenced in this law of Newton's. So maybe we should back off the 'bullshit' qualifier and instead use the word 'incomplete'? We know what Kepler was thinking on this issue, ... he made it very clear, ...that the material and aitherial universe itself was the source of the force. In other words, Kepler's view was the the cosmos was 'alive' and 'self-organizing' and that 'God' was 'geometry' the ordering principle or 'Logos' as Heraclitus had called it, which had not beginning nor any end.
So Newton's laws were incomplete in that they did not say where the 'force' was coming from which harmonically animated the cosmos. But there is another aspect to Newton's first law, which suggests our resurrecting of the adjective 'bullshit', and that is this law implicit builds, bottom-up, from a state which has never been observed in nature, ... except by our own abstract non-relativistic conventions, ... i.e. a " ...state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line". This is the base case from which we are implicitly asked to build up our conception of the universe, ... our understanding of 'the way the world works'. Can you hear numerous Ojibway's, Mohawks and Navajo's muttering 'bullshit' in the gallery, in their nudgatory rather than overbearing manner?
We homo sapiens weren't always here in our present form on this earth and before we arrived in our current circumstance, 'things' were moving and dancing together harmonically and enfolding and evolving and who or what was applying the compelling force? Does the rainforest create its own climate or does it not? Do the mother and father create their own family to pull their lives into the shape they will take on, or not?
Apparently, no-one in particular was 'applying the compelling force', but instead, each material entity was somehow conscious of the debt it owed to its containing 'field', (perhaps through the outside-in informational field which is unbounded in relativistic space) from whence it had emerged and into which it was going to ultimately subduct. Of course, the particulars of the opportunity through which it could make its purposive payments towards whole-and-part harmony were now unique to each entity, a matter of unique historical space-time development.
This is the 'self-organizing' grandeur of life which Darwin speaks about in his closing thought in 'The Origin of Species', i.e. "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
Clearly, things do not have to be 'compelled by force' to move, ... the basic characteristic of the cosmos is 'motion', 'curved space, self-referential, harmonic flow' rather than stasis as in Newton's laws, ... a stasis which wipes the slate clean with respect to the space-time phase relationships associated with the whole-and-part co-dynamic. The starting point for our understanding of 'the way the world works' is that things move as if part of a harmonic whole and in their coordinating movements evolution happens, ... things are continuously enfolded within things, systems are continuously enfolded within systems forming ecologies of whole-and-part movement.
In spite of this 'common sense' view of evolution, every time we look at a 'thing' or at a ball in a game of pool, we have been trained to forget that we are all 'being blown across the heavens in a cosmic dance stirred up by a great wind', ... and see the 'thing' as being 'standalone' and 'being at rest' and think instead, solely in terms of compelling it to do something of our bidding, out of the context of its and our harmonic relationships with our containing environment. But we cannot escape the fact that this view of stasis is an illusion, and that instead, the 'thing' and ourself, the observer, 'live' together within a harmonic commons and when 'we move it', by the imposition of a compelling force, we are looking at a small story within a far bigger story, and the bigger story is that we are alterning the harmonic commons which contains us, ... and that commons will inevitably 'make up' for our perturbation in some way since THE VERY BASE which all things are referred to is not 'stasis' or 'linear equilibrium' but is instead the 'whole-and-part harmony' with which 'universe adorns' the material world.
As the Gaian hypothesis advocates say, ...when the world is injured, it heals itself. We homo sapiens, as influential strands within the web, with our nuclear weapons and biotechnology, may be able to do alot of damage, ... and we may perturb the system to the point that life as we know it on earth disappears, ... or perhaps even the earth as we know it disappears, ... but if the base of our cosmos is 'field'; i.e. energy and ordering information as our modern sciences say it is, ... then by definition, anything we can do in a 'material-causal' context is merely a foreground process launched within the background container of order, energy and information. What homo sapiens do is a small story whose telling is enabled by the bigger story in which it is contained.
So this is why we must, ... no, .... 'why it makes sense to' manage 'opportunity' rather than 'causal transactions'. when we are managing causal transactions we are forcefully compelling things to move, ... and to perturb, often involuntarily and unconsciously, the way in which the 'harmony of whole and part' debt will have to be paid, ... because, in relativistic (i.e. self-referential) space, we perturb the shape of opportunity for all other entities by our movements. This is the pool player's problem as he plays in this self-referential space which emulates his own containing space in many ways, ... that his causal 'shot' focus will perturb the containing environment and set up a new type of debt with respect to the restoration of whole-and-part order, where things can ultimately move in coordination with each other. When he (personifying the individual ball) moves, he can only move within a 'channel of opportunity', ... a channel of opportunity which forms out of the movement of his brother entities. As he moves, he changes the topography of opportunity of which he himself constitutes part, ... thus as he moves, he transforms the topography of opportunity, ... the opportunity channels into which he and his brothers who together constitute the topography, require for their continuing pursuit of purpose. Their purpose?, .... one of authentically co-becoming who they were meant to become, in an implicit geometrical sense, ... the particulars of which cannot be pre-ordained, but are co-determined by the relational interference of purpose and opportunity, ... filling in their own void, .... and using the available material particulars of the unique space-time situation they are immersed in.
Man's conscious intervention based on rational thought (rather than his intuitive 'being who he is' in topography-of-opportunity- shaping whole-and-part harmonic scheme of things) by failing to pay his dues to 'whole-and-part harmony' and 'opportunity landscaping', as he goes along, can incur an increasing larger debt which will necessarily be paid in some way, by someone else, or something else, if not by himself.
So what does influence his conscious rational interventions? It would appear that they are heavily influenced by language and communications, ... which help him to work with others to build large-scale rational structures capable of forcing things to depart in a big way from their natural harmonic obligations. Nature too builds large-scale structures but always within the auspices of the containing 'whole-and-part harmony' requirement, paying its dues as it goes along in an overall relativistic 'book-balancing'. Man, being a constituent of nature, is thus distinguished by his poor debt repayment ethic.
Nature in general reflects the geometry of the rainforest which creates its own climate, ... which 'bootstraps itself into being'. This is henri laborit's message in his poetic preface to L'Eloge de la Fuite' (In praise of giving way) where he opens the book with an allusion to the sailor in a storm, who abandons his rational course, ... stops fighting the winds and currents and instead pulls down his mainsail and pulls up his rudder, which has been using as a compelling force to 'push off' from his containing environment, ... and instead puts up the jib of purpose, ... purpose which is now in a co-dynamic with containing opportunity, ... which will both satisfy his purpose and take him on an evolutionary voyage of discovery, ...and the jib is to the sailor as the rainforest's climate is to it, ... using the order and energy of the environmental container of which he is a constituent, to pull him somewhere which co-satisfies his purpose and natural opportunity which continues to be shaped by their co-evolutionary dancing.
The sailor running on the jib of purpose is 'tuned' to the natural harmonies and the opportunities which self-present. The sailboat itself is technology, and the principle is thus demonstrated that technology subordinated to natural harmonies is a natural aspect of nature, ... the seed transported by wind and current is an example.
What seems to be the key here is the ''tuning' to natural harmonies' and allowing our responses to be guided by that 'tuning', aka 'implicit understanding'.
HOWEVER, ... our human responses are being guided more and more by language, and media (printed word, radio, television, internet) and our responses have been building up to a grand scale due to technology-based leveraging.
It follows that we must assess how well our global systems of language and media are allowing us to 'tune in' to the natural harmonies and thus guide our responses.
If language and media are interfering, rather than helping with our 'tuning in' to natural, harmonic opportunity, then their 'detuning' of our responses will be implicitly transforming the system in a major way, ... in a way which goes beyond the context of our explicit actions, ... thus building a bigger debt which will have to be paid somehow, to balance the books of 'whole-and-part harmony'. This is the message of Mcluhan (the medium is the message) and Illich (silence is a commons).
McLuhan speaks of the move away from our sense of immersion in a harmonic co-dynamic which our 'in-line with nature' sensory experience gives us, ... towards the 'offline with nature' stasis view of Newton coming from our acceptance of 'second-hand' or 'offline' (explicit and therefore static) understandings and suggests that the 'electronic age' may actually help us to rediscover our immersed harmonic co-dynamic;
"As our age translates itself back into the oral and auditory modes...we become sharply aware of the uncritical acceptance of visual metaphors and models by many past centuries." - - - Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy
The 'offline' or 'snookering' problem is put very succinctly by Ivan Illich in terms of how we are using technology to build our visualisations of society and the world by broadcasting second-hand visual perspectives, and so constraining the view not just by the narrowness of visual perspective, ... but compounding this narrowing of perception by allowing the 'broadcasts' to be dominated by 'insiders' who have favoured access to the tools of communication. This is not an insinuation of conspiracy, but simply one of 'complex system' effects which people are often caught up in unknowingly, due to euclidian or Newtonian conventions on perceiving and inquiring into reality. Citing McLuhan once again;
"Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don't really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth's atmosphere to a company as a monopoly." ('Understanding Media' (1965);
Perhaps the internet will be used differently, ... perhaps the internet will provide, in practice, a capability similar to the 'elders circle' which allows us simply to listen to what people are perceiving, inline to nature, from their unique vantage points, ... like seeing the geometry of natural opportunity through the eyes of each billiard ball, and thereby 'tuning in' to the natural harmonies of whole and part. If we 'listen' to everyone, including the wolves, the natural foodcrops and the soil, ... as if through the diverse eyes of these 'brother strands' in the web, ... and gain an implicit understanding of the harmonies, we will then be in a position to allow our individual responses to be guided by an implicit understanding, ... and ensure that our rational controlling actions and our technologies are employed always in a subordinate and supporting role. is this not the way it was in the tribal village? and could we not achieve a congruent geometry in the global village by grafting our technological ways onto the 'tuned-in' system inquiry ways of the indigenous peoples?
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A WORLD CONGRESS OF THE SYSTEMS SCIENCES,
INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE SYSTEMS SCIENCES
TORONTO, CANADA, JULY 16-22, 2000
To help celebrate the new millennium, the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) and some 20 "co-host" organizations and groups in the systems field will jointly present a three-day World Congress of the Systems Sciences in downtown Toronto Canada during the summer of the year 2000.
The purpose of the Congress will be to provide a scientific forum for addressing the many challenges that humankind will face in the new century. The theme will be: "Understanding Complexity: The Systems Sciences in the New Millennium." Former ISSS Presidents Stafford Beer and Anatol Rapoport will serve as honorary co-chairpersons.
The Congress will begin with a welcoming reception and concert on Sunday evening July 16th. This will be followed by three full days (Monday-Wednesday) of morning keynote and co-host plenary speeches, afternoon panels with presentations by representatives of each co-host organization, and informal evening workshop/discussion sessions to allow for more personal interaction and dialogue.
Speakers will include Russell Ackoff, Stafford Beer, John Casti, Eric Chaisson, John Holland, Ervin Laszlo, Anatol Rapoport and David Sloan Wilson. Other invitations are pending. Co-host speakers will include Hal Linstone, Mike Jackson, George Klir, Stanley Salthe, Bill Shireman, Brian Swimme, Robert Vallee, Paul Wohlmuth and others. Some are as yet to be arranged.
Participants in the Congress will also be entitled to attend the 44th annual meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences on Thursday to Saturday (July 20-22), which will feature panels and discussion sessions on a broad array of topics and issues. Many panels and symposia will be arranged by the more than 20 "Special Integration Groups" within ISSS, but there will also be various special forums, symposia and paper panels: Some titles include: "The Lessons of Y2K," "Healthy Communities in a Healthy World," "Re-Thinking Human Rights and Global Responsibilities in the New Millennium," "The Art of Forecasting in the Age of Global Warming," "Capitalism in the 21st Century,"The Challenge of Sustainability," "Resources and Environment in the New Millennium" and "Thermoeconomics: Beyond the Second Law."
CONFERENCE ORGANIZER: Dr. Peter A. Corning (ISSS President), World
Congress/ISSS, 560 Waverley Street, Ste. 202, Palo Alto, CA 94301 USA. Ph: (650)
325-5717 FAX: (650) 325-3775 E-Mail: WRLDISSS2K@aol.com
LOCAL ORGANIZER: Dr. Helmut (Ken) Burkhardt, Ryerson Polytechnic University,
Toronto. Ph: (416) 979-5000 ext. 7246 FAX: (416) 979-5064 E-Mail:
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