Presidential Addresses ISSS

Full text of the Incoming or Presidential Talks can be accessed by clicking on the title of the presentation.

Incoming President's Address | ISSS 56th Annual Conference | San Jose, July 2012

Increasing the Range and Reach of the Systems Sciences: A Call to Reinvigorate the Systems Movement

Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D.

Abstract

As our species finally breaches the carrying capacity of the planet we call home, we are faced with the perennial challenge: evolve or die. But now the challenge is both global and immediate. We have explored and exhausted the identity of Homo Sapiens sapiens. We must move on, evolve beyond the strategically wise, the rationally refined, the intellectually erudite and the technologically talented. Our patterns of being and becoming now need to match the patterns and processes of ecosystemic meta-stability found in nature and the cosmos at large. But for this, we must abandon our ego-centric conceptions of self. We must no longer look out at the world through the eyes of exclusively individual interests. And above all, we must be ready to repudiate our gladiatorial existence and learn what it means to be a communal being. To commune with ourselves, with each other, with nature, with past and future possibilities. This is no mere poetic flight of fancy. It is the survival imperative of our times. Beyond re-conceptualizing ourselves in this way, the true challenge lies in post-conceptualizing the relational states of emergence that continually manifest the patterns of being and becoming that create conditions conducive to life. We cannot do this alone. Homo Sapiens sapiens is a species bound for extinction. This is cause for celebration. We must become Homo Sapiens cosmicus – capable of manifesting both our mundane individuality and our sacred connectivity as part and whole at one and the same time. What are the forms of perception that propitiate such engagement? Can systems thinking and holistic being provide platforms upon which to curate the emergence of a new species identity? What are the patterns and processes currently alive in our world that intimate the possibility of co-creating a global eco-civilization? And how, and in what ways, must consciousness transform to propitiate such an evolutionary paradigm shift? These are some of the challenges posited by this paper in the hope that the Systems Movement in general, and the ISSS in particular, will take them up over the coming year and into the future.

 

Incoming President's Address | ISSS 55th Annual Conference | Hull, July 2011

Service Systems, Natural Systems:  Sciences in Synthesis: An Outline for a Presidential Address

David Ing

Abstract

As we look forward into 2012, I encourage members of the ISSS to continue the development of sciences in synthesis.  Synthesis means putting things together, rather than taking them apart.  Synthesis leads to emergence:  properties of a whole that are not in its parts.  The research communities centered on service systems and on natural systems may benefit from a synthesis through a systems approach.

This presidential address has 6 parts.

  • 1. Challenges where the systems approach can make a contribution
  • 2. Research into service systems
  • 3. Research into natural systems
  • 4. Some frames brought with a systems approach
  • 5. Learning and knowing

The address concludes with a call for participation at the 56th annual meeting of the ISSS in San Jose, California, in July 2012.

 

 

Incoming President's Address | ISSS 49th Annual Conference | Cancun, Mexico, July 2005

Whither Systems? | ¿A Dónde Vamos?

Debora Hammond, Ph.D.

Abstract

The question I ask in the title, subtitled in recognition of our Mexican hosts, pertains to both the broadly defined field of systems thinking in general and to the ISSS in particular. Specifically, I will explore what systems thinking might have to contribute to the challenges facing humanity at this juncture in our evolution, as well as the role that ISSS might play in fostering more systemic approaches in education, business, technology, and government. At an even broader level, in order to provide a context for these questions, it is important to consider where the systems that condition our lives are themselves headed. There are many indications that the current state of the world is highly unstable - whether one considers ecological issues, such as the loss of biodiversity and climate change, or sociopolitical issues, such as the increasing disparity in wealth, heightened tensions between nations, or the threat of nuclear proliferation. In what ways might the various traditions that comprise the "systems approach" contribute to resolving the increasing polarization between individuals, belief systems, and living conditions in different parts of the world? Even within the broad umbrella of systems thinking, there seems to be a growing divide between the "two cultures" (i.e. science and the humanities) that C.P. Snow (1959) identified nearly a half century ago. One of the primary goals for which the ISSS was founded was to foster the unity of knowledge, which is perhaps what makes it unique among the many systems-oriented institutions that have emerged in the interim. How might we most effectively pursue this quest and what might it mean in the context of our times?

Alexander Laszlo: Incoming Presidential Talk 2012

 

INCREASING THE RANGE AND REACH OF THE SYSTEMS SCIENCES:

A CALL TO REINVIGORATE THE SYSTEMS MOVEMENT

Incoming Presidential Address for the 57th Meeting & Conference of the ISSS

Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D.*

Syntony Quest – http://syntonyquest.org

&

The Giordano Bruno GlobalShift University – http://giordanobrunouniversity.com

 

Abstract

As our species finally breaches the carrying capacity of the planet we call home, we are faced with the perennial challenge: evolve or die.  But now the challenge is both global and immediate.  We have explored and exhausted the identity of Homo Sapiens sapiens.  We must move on, evolve beyond the strategically wise, the rationally refined, the intellectually erudite and the technologically talented.  Our patterns of being and becoming now need to match the patterns and processes of ecosystemic meta-stability found in nature and the cosmos at large.  But for this, we must abandon our ego-centric conceptions of self.  We must no longer look out at the world through the eyes of exclusively individual interests.  And above all, we must be ready to repudiate our gladiatorial existence and learn what it means to be a communal being.  To commune with ourselves, with each other, with nature, with past and future possibilities.  This is no mere poetic flight of fancy.  It is the survival imperative of our times.  Beyond re-conceptualizing ourselves in this way, the true challenge lies in post-conceptualizing the relational states of emergence that continually manifest the patterns of being and becoming that create conditions conducive to life.  We cannot do this alone.  Homo Sapiens sapiens is a species bound for extinction.  This is cause for celebration.  We must become Homo Sapiens cosmicus – capable of manifesting both our mundane individuality and our sacred connectivity as part and whole at one and the same time.  What are the forms of perception that propitiate such engagement?  Can systems thinking and holistic being provide platforms upon which to curate the emergence of a new species identity?  What are the patterns and processes currently alive in our world that intimate the possibility of co-creating a global eco-civilization?  And how, and in what ways, must consciousness transform to propitiate such an evolutionary paradigm shift?  These are some of the challenges posited by this paper in the hope that the Systems Movement in general, and the ISSS in particular, will take them up over the coming year and into the future.  

Keywords

Holistic Being, Transcendent Consciousness, Curated Emergence, Thrivable Systems, Conviviality, Systemic Perception, Global Eco-Civilization, Post-Conceptual Knowing, Evolutionary Innovation.

 

Introduction

Fifty-eight years ago, our modern day Systems Movement coalesced at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in connection with the AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science).  That initiative in 1954 saw the founding of the first iteration of the ISSS a year later.  This was the Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory which held its first formal conference in 1956.  Its founders, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard and Anatol Rapoport, with the involvement of James Grier Miller, formally established the Society for General Systems Research two years after that, in 1957.  Since then it has undergone two more name changes to reflect changes in its scale and scope.   In 1962 it became the International Society for General Systems Research, and in 1988 it was renamed the International Society for the Systems Sciences.[1]  However, as the primary vehicle for the advancement of the Systems Movement, the reason for the existence of this society is as relevant today as it was at the time of its founding. 

Since its inception, the Systems Movement has focused on the need for a humanly relevant science, capable of addressing the pressing needs of a burgeoning humanity seemingly plagued by increasing levels of complexity and interdependence.  Some might argue that nothing could be more relevant to contemporary concerns, and many here might well agree.  Yet the world was a vastly different place when the Movement began than it is today, the implication being that while still relevant to the concerns of humanity, the nature and focus of the Movement need to evolve.

 

The Relevance of the Systems Movement: the early years

In the middle of last century, the world was rebounding from two World Wars and entering a period of political, economic, industrial and religious might.  A new era of geo-politics was under way and the need for systems of command and control brought Operations Research and the RAND Corporation into the limelight of the Systems Movement.  For all intents and purposes, there were no limits to growth, no serious concerns regarding the environment, and while population growth and overshoot have long been an area of interest to demographers and economists alike, they were still considered relatively benign issues at that time.[2]  The management sciences continued to draw heavily on the works of Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henri Fayol, even as they laid the basis for what Michael Porter later termed the competitive advantage of nations.  The United Nations had recently been established as the offspring of the League of Nations, set up as a supra-national system for governing relations among the sovereign nation-states of the world – a mandate fraught with systemic challenges from its inception.

The need to understand – and manage – systems of increasing complexity and interdependence, and to construct both organizational and physical systems of ever greater scale and scope, was paramount to the challenges faced by a globalizing humanity in that day and age.  A premium was placed on the capacity to model, plan, design and implement systems that were efficient, effective, and efficacious in their instrumentality.  Given the dominance of the machine metaphor for life and all things systemic, it was not surprising for there to be such an emphasis on ends planning over means planning, as described so well by Russell Ackoff.[3]  He pointed out that “in the Machine Age, even human beings were thought of as machines.  In the Systems Age, even machines are thought of as parts of purposeful systems.”[4]

 

The Relevance of the Systems Movement: contemporary concerns

The 1950s also saw the emergence of a series of interdisciplinary endeavors in areas such as the management sciences, information sciences, computer sciences, decision sciences, cybernetics, peace and conflict studies, policy studies, and other areas.  Inquiry at the nexus of disciplinary boundaries became of particular interest, and degree programs in areas such as bio-physics, ethno-botany, geo-politics and other interdisciplinary endeavors abounded.  At the same time, multidisciplinary task forces were more common and frequent features of large-scale research projects that sought to explore complex evolutionary or developmental phenomena from a variety of perspectives.  Yet the disciplinary boundaries of academia proved to be so high and robust as to resist the widespread permeation of truly transdisciplinary study as offered by the systems sciences.  Inroads were made here and there, especially with the popularization of the sciences of complexity – what were dubbed the New Sciences in the 1970s and 80s, including non-linear thermodynamics, complex adaptive systems theory, chaos theory, and second order cybernetics.  However, dedicated academic programs of systems science remained few and far between in the world of formal education.  The ISSS continued to offer a periodic playground for the advancement of systems ideas and applications every year, and has been a beacon to the systems movement, providing it with continuity and lineage. 

 

Real-World Challenges to the Systems Movement

It is a truism to state that our world is ever more interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent.  We just witnessed RIO+20, an effort that exemplifies what has been labeled as “the insipid progress” of international efforts to address global thrivability concerns.[5]  At the same time, we continue with plans to expand the hegemony of our species even beyond the bounds of this planet, with ambitious projects such as the private Mars One initiative where “the schedule is to establish a human settlement on Mars by 2023.”[6]

The progress of far‑reaching social structures with powerful technologies has allowed us to change the face of the earth, and now we’re already looking to Mars for further conquest.  Historically speaking, humankind has more or less consciously pursued the strategy of adapting the environment to its needs in order to gain mastery over nature.  We have molded and modified our surroundings however we please in order to be more comfortable.  By the second decade of the third millennium, this strategy of adapting the environment to us in accordance with our every whim has brought us to the threshold of the carrying capacity of the life support systems of planet Earth, and many would even say already well beyond. 

It would be incorrect to assume that the only alternative to adapting the environment to us would be to adapt ourselves to the environment.  And yet, there are those who argue that it is the only way forward, pointing out that “you hear about the death of nature and it’s true, but nature will be able to reconstitute itself once the top of the food chain is loped off — meaning us.”[7]  In other words, since life may actually go on much better without human beings, our greatest contribution to cosmic evolution may be to ensure a healthy planetary ecosystem by removing its prime threat — the human race!

This is not a strategy for the inclusive fitness of human beings.  Fortunately, as this 56th ISSS conference on Service Systems, Natural Systems has brilliantly brought to light, the systems sciences suggest possible alternatives.  One of the main challenges to humanity at this juncture in our collective history is to find systemic alternatives to either adapting the world to us or adapting ourselves to the world.  The options in this direction must promote systemic sustainability, that is, integral approaches to human relationships between ourselves and other systems based on co-adaptation — strategies for adapting with the world, rather than either adapting ourselves to it or forcing it to adapt to us.

 

The Next Stage of the Systems Movement: Curating a Systems Consciousness

If the Systems Movement to date can be said by and large to have been concerned with systems thinking and systems practice, in Peter Checkland’s succinct expression of the field, the next stage of the Movement will focus on systems consciousness and systems being.  Far from precluding areas of systemic endeavor that tend toward more quantitative, symbolic, or pragmatic concerns, this focus asks all systems scientists to move toward truly living their vocation.  The challenge of our times is to cultivate the requisite relational intelligence to allow us to embody and enact into the world the systems we so brilliantly describe and create.

The Systems Movement has seen so much of our time, effort and attention taken up with describing, modeling and mapping the dynamics of complexity in the world around us.  As systems scientists, we have become consummate cartographers, explicating the topography of change at all systems levels.  What an important role we have been playing in the world, bridging experiential knowing and practical knowing with propositional knowing and presentational knowing![8]  It is essential that the Systems Movement continue to foster this work, to explicate the structures and functions of our world, elucidating the patterns and processes that lead to a navigable world of relationships amidst flows of increasing dynamic complexity.  And now it is time for us to expand the range and reach of the systems sciences by adding to and enriching the Systems Movement through the cultivation of a conscious commitment to the domain of relational awareness – curating a systems consciousness that aligns the theories, practices, designs and experiences we create with the way we embody them as dynamically intertwingled living systems in our own right.

Systems consciousness emerges from and also nests relational intelligence.  The cultivation of relational ways of being builds on the principles, perspectives, and practices at the heart of the Systems Movement.  In 1995, Daniel Goleman came out with his work on Emotional Intelligence as one way of moving beyond the rational mind, the conceptual frame of things, helping us become more sense-able.[9]  He followed that up with the notion of Social Intelligence, and then with Ecological Intelligence.[10]  More recently, Dana Zohar has worked with the notion of Spiritual Intelligence,[11] and of course, Howard Gardner has his classical model of multiple intelligences dating from 1983,[12] which includes Naturalistic Intelligence (nature smarts), Musical Intelligence (musical smarts), Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (number/reasoning smarts), Existential Intelligence (being/knowing smarts), Interpersonal Intelligence (people smarts), Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (body smarts), Linguistic Intelligence (word smarts), Intra-personal Intelligence (self smarts), and Spatial Intelligence (picture smarts).  Each author presents a robust and enticing platform for different ways of knowing, with each type of intelligence essentially providing different access to consciousness.  

From a systems perspective, the problem is that all these forms of intelligence are separate.  You can access and employ one or the other, and perhaps if you have “mastered” them all you would be able to switch between them in order to interpret and understand a given situation or phenomenon from various angles.  In other words, they present the same siloed and serial framing perspective as does multi-disciplinarity in the academic world.  The Systems Movement has helped put transdisciplinarity on the map, searching for, surfacing, and connecting the isomorphisms of disciplinary contiguity across a broad range of study of any given phenomena or event.  The challenge, then, is to expand this effort to the domain of embodied and enacted human consciousness, bridging from the academic concern with disciplinarity to the relational concern with manifest intelligence.  While the concern for trans-disciplinarity remains vitally important to the Systems Movement, it is time for us also to include concern for trans-intelligence: the capacity to engage a higher consciousness that synergizes the various forms of intelligence exemplified by recent studies in consciousness and related fields into one holistic engagement with experience.  

 

Coherence, Thrivability and Conviviality – Key Concepts in Systems Consciousness

Recent studies in molecular physics have surfaced interesting insights into the conditions that give rise to spectacular patterns of emergence within and among complex adaptive systems.  For instance, it is now understood that liquid water is made up of networks of “coherence domains” — regions in which the molecules act in phase. This is called coherence.  What is interesting and particularly significant for the dynamics of thrivability is that when sets of coherence domains come into coherence among themselves, an emergent phenomenon known as “super-coherence” occurs.  As it turns out, only dissipative systems — ones capable of exporting to their environment the entropy they produce — are capable of super-coherence.  A system composed of super-coherent sub-systems is highly resonant.  That is, it carries, sustains, and conveys patterns of health and wellbeing so long as it is not actively destabilized in its resonant milieu.  When brought to the level of human social and societal systems, this phenomenon is expressed in terms of hyper-connectivity. 

Ross Dawson describes the phenomenon of hyper-connectivity as an emergent property of our globalizing sets of relationships.[13] As we become ever more intertwingled, the potential for super-coherence among the social systems in which we live, conduct business, and manipulate our environment offers the promise of deep conviviality.  The levels of thrivability inherent in these super-coherent social systems could potentially reach such high levels as to suggest the emergence of societal super-organisms.  These living networks of convivial communities of practice, of interest, and of place lay the foundation for the emergence of a global eco-civilization in which humanity takes on the role of curators of planetary thrivability.  And it is in service of the emergence of such networks that the Systems Movement can most powerfully move in the coming years.

However, the dynamics of change could just as easily go in the other direction.  What emerges as synergetic intertwinglement when thrivability is consciously curated can degrade toward negative synergetic entanglement when myopic and ego-centric perspectives dominate.  Without a systemic framework of relational intelligence that consciously nurtures super-coherence in our societal systems, and coherence at the individual level of our psycho-emotional selves, we run the risk of creating ever larger networks of dysfunctionality.  Key to such a systems consciousness is the focus on coherence domains in the context of the living environment of human beings. 

There are four coherence domains for human thrivability:

1.     At the first coherence domain – conviviality with oneself; personal or internal thrivability – the practices involve centering, quieting the monkey-mind, listening with every cell of our being. These practices cultivate intuition, empathy, compassion, insight that matches outsight, and a willingness to explore and follow our deepest calling.

2.     At the second coherence domain – conviviality with others; community or interpersonal thrivability – the practice involves deep dialogue and collaboration.  Coming together to learn with and from each other and to engage in coordinated action with considerateness, openness, and joy in order to enable collective wisdom.

3.     At the third coherence domain – conviviality with nature; ecosystemic or transpersonal sustainability – the practices involve communing; listening to the messages of all beings (whether they be waterfalls, animals, mountains or galaxies) and acknowledging our interdependence and ultimate unity.

4.     At the fourth coherence domain – conviviality with the flows of being and becoming; evolutionary or integral thrivability – the practices involve learning to read the patterns of change of which we are a part; learning to hear the rhythms of life and becoming familiar with the improvisational jam session that nature has been playing since time immemorial. These practices cultivate our ability to play our own piece; to sing and dance our own path into existence in harmony with the grand patterns of cosmic creation and to participate in the ongoing flourishing of life.

Some of the questions that guide the practices of systemic thrivability within each of these coherence domains are:

¤  In the first domain (intra-personal conviviality): Who am I and what is my life’s purpose? What are my talents? To what do I feel called to contribute? What brings meaning to my life? What supports my personal development?

¤  In the second domain (inter-personal conviviality): What common cares bring us together? What is our shared vision? How do we want to contribute to the flourishing of life forever? Who are our partners and collaborators? What do we need to learn? What do we want to create? What is our value proposition or unique contribution to all our stakeholders? What affirms our values, identity and culture?  How do we treat each other — for example, with respect, active listening, empathy, and suspended judgement?

¤  In the third domain (trans-species conviviality): What gifts do we receive from nature that we have not acknowledged? What relationships and connections need to be restored? How can we contribute to the regeneration of our ecosystems? What would a thriving relationship with nature look like?

¤  In the fourth domain (trans-generational conviviality): What would our ancestors think of our work and life? What would our children’s children think of our choices? How do we honor our past and create our future intentionally? How do we become active and conscious participants in the unfolding of life?

Super-coherence occurs when all four coherence domains become coherently aligned in daily practice, resulting in an integral engagement with thrivability.  As such, the relational intelligence inherent to systemic consciousness is keyed to these practices — always engaging us in a dynamic of conviviality.

When we seek to adapt ourselves with the way in which something else is evolving, we engage in a dynamic of conviviality.  According to Ivan Illich, the notion of conviviality denotes “autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment.”[14]  Conviviality, in this sense, is much more than a condition of social nicety.  It is an essential characteristic of thrivable systems. 

Convivial responses to the complexity of contemporary global and local challenges – personal, societal, planetary – require an expanded perspective: a way of recognizing interconnections, of perceiving wholes and parts, of acknowledging processes and structures, of blending apparent opposites. But most importantly, they require collaboration and an appreciation of reciprocity.  Individual solutions and breakthrough ideas are necessary but not sufficient.  Real opportunity to affect change arises from the systemic synergies that we create together.  Curating the conditions for a thrivable planet draws on contemporary insights from the sciences of complexity, the life sciences (including the biophilial orientations of biomimicry), and an embracive spirituality that re-instills a sense of the sacred in the universe.

 

ISSS 2013: Curating the Conditions for a Thrivable Planet – Systemic Leverage Points for Emerging a Global Eco-Civilization

As the ISSS bridges from the theme of Service Systems, Natural Systems to that of Systemic Leverage Points for Emerging a Global Eco-Civilization in view of Curating the Conditions for a Thrivable Planet, we are faced with an amazing opportunity.  To apply all areas of the systems sciences to thrive and help thrive.  There is perhaps no greater service calling at the systemic level of life on Earth, for it addresses the highest level of self-actualization on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.[15]  According to Donella Meadows, the most powerful leverage point – the place of greatest effectiveness for systemic intervention – is at the level of paradigms;[16] those worldviews, mental frames, or as more richly put in German, Weltangschauungen that shape us in the image we have of our world, and shape the world we live in as we act upon the reality of this image.   Through the cultivation of a systemic consciousness that draws on, develops and puts into practice our relational intelligence for the identification of systemic leverage points for emerging a global eco-civilization, the ISSS will affect not only the character of the Systems Movement itself, but potentially also create inroads in the efforts of our species to curate the conditions for a thrivable planet.  Through the vehicle of the 57th Meeting and Conference of the ISSS, we will contribute to an evolutionary narrative of the next phase of human civilization in a time of global personal awakening.  This is no trivial challenge, and none is of greater systemic relevance to the global problematique of our time.  Given the nature of this leverage point, it is worth bearing in mind the admonition of Donella Meadows when she pointed out that “the higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changing it.”[17]

It is the objective of this next conference to capitalize upon current and emerging initiatives that create attractors for ongoing activities connecting systems science with systems action in the area of systemic sustainability.  The conference will provide a unique opportunity for scholars and practitioners to come together and share a variety of viewpoints on a broad range of issues relating to emergent patterns, processes and relationships of life and living systems. The design of the conference is being shaped so as to provide a playspace where systems scientists can jointly curate the emergence of more sustainable and even thrivable systems.  By exploring cutting edge inquiry across a variety of types of non-linear complex adaptive systems, the conference will focus on processes of self-organization and emergence that relate to the ontology of life. These issues will be engaged with in the areas of living systems, natural systems, social systems and technological systems, inviting conference participants to emerge patterns of organization that may contribute to new ways of being and doing in the context of an evolving eco-civilization.  

Each day of the conference will consider the theme from one of the four ways of knowing described by Heron and Reason in 1997[18], moving from experiential knowing to presentational knowing to propositional knowing to practical knowing.  Through both local and virtual conversation-based systemic inquiry, the conference will be designed so as to be a key example of systemic socio-ecological innovation aided by collective intelligence.  In other words, the conference itself will be a systems experiment conceived as a type of ‘enhancement laboratory’ to leverage the collective intelligence of the ISSS.  This will be accomplished through the application of a modified and enhanced version of Participatory Action Research[19] known as GAR – Generative Action Research.  GAR methodology is a cyclic, emergent and participative approach to the co-creation of meaning among groups of evolutionary change agents.  As described by George Pór, these three characteristics can be represented as follows:

/world/system/files/files/alex1.png

Figure 1: Three process dimensions of Generative Action Research (GAR)

[following the work of George Pór]

¤  Cyclic— Action and understanding are advanced through cycles of deliberate intervention and reflection.

¤  Emergent— GAR design is not fully specified in advance of the inquiry, thereby allowing its cycles to respond to relevant knowledge emerging from the previous cycle. By way of such a fuzzy guiding process, GAR remains flexible, yet robust, capable to adjust to changes in the emergent process of knowledge creation.

¤  Participative— Those whose action are likely to affect or be affected by the intended systemic change are involved in designing the actions to be taken in the subsequent cycle.

The three cycles of GAR represent sequences of an expanding spiral of knowledge value creation. The conceptual prototype is developed in the first cycle along with the identification of sources of funding for its realization.  A baseline prototype system is created in the second cycle as an experimental version of CIEL.  This also permits interacting with and enhancing the conference organizing processes, as well as expanding the range and reach of the relevant design conversations to include interested stakeholders.  The third cycle is represented by the 57th ISSS Conference itself, as well as the phase of preparation for the launch of the CI Initiative immediately preceding the conference.  In this third cycle, the GAR enhanced CIEL project will take on a life of its own as a demonstration project for collective intelligence in action, organizing itself across multiple platforms, geographies, cultures and generations.[20]

As a systemic design experiment in and of itself, the objective of the 57th ISSS Conference is to accelerate, richly connect, and increase the diversity of the processes by which all those who participate in the conference – either in person at the time of the conference, or virtually before, during and after the conference – are able to share, create, and innovate theories, methods, and practices that foster new paradigms in planetary thrivability and systemic conviviality.

/world/system/files/files/alex2.png

Figure 2: Virtuous cycle for bootstrapping an eco-civilization

The intention is for ISSS 2013 to provide both a platform for other contextual designs framed within the meta-level objective of curating the conditions for a thrivable planet, as well as to catalyze the emergence of a network of such initiatives through the specific system level focus on the systemic leverage points for emerging a global eco-civilization.  The selected conference theme will serve to attract living cases of systemic sustainability – those which demonstrate socio-ecological innovations that span social, technological, economic, agricultural, and infrastructural domains.  By focusing ISSS 2013 on the exploration of both real-world cases of systemic sustainability and theoretical models dedicated to their promotion, this event will serve to seed the emergence of a Global Living Laboratory network of such initiatives. The result of this event would therefore be the emergence of an auto-catalytic socio-technical system focused on individual projects of systemic sustainability that collectively contribute to the creation of conditions for a thrivable planet. 

We have chosen the venue of Viet Nam as the ideal context and platform for this engagement.  The living case studies and design models of systemic sustainability will spotlight the development efforts of the local government in both rural and urban sustainability on the northern coast of Viet Nam, and the Global Living Laboratory Network as a new actionable paradigm for curating the conditions for a thrivable planet.  These examples will serve as key attractors for other local and global initiatives.  By providing a platform for the presentation of cutting edge systemic sustainability efforts — indeed, for ones which even move entirely beyond sustainability into areas of thrivability — the patterns of emergence that point the way to a global eco-civilization may begin to be discerned, modeled and brought into systemic engagement. The intention is to cultivate a new narrative of convivial thrivability for our times through a demonstration case that exemplifies the human potential for curating the conditions for a thrivable plant.  Specifically, the 57th Annual Meeting and Conference of the ISSS would itself be a case study in the identification and development of systemic leverage points for emerging a global eco-civilization.  When seen in this light – as a demonstration case for a larger meta-project relating to planetary thrivability – the creative efforts of the ISSS Membership as well as of those engaged in similar efforts in other venues before, during and after the meeting in Viet Nam will mark a new trend.  A trend that matches systems thinking and systems practice with systems consciousness and systems beingin the world, and in so doing, launches new paradigm conversations in the Systems Movement.

This is the next great challenge for the ISSS.  I hope you will accept the invitation to be the change and to see the world shift at the leverage point that we are. 



*Correspondence to Alexander@SyntonyQuest.org

[1]Cf. Hammond, Deborah (2003).  The Science of Synthesis. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. Pp. 248-252; Hofkirchner, Wolfgang and Schafranek, Matthias (2011). “General Systems Theory” in Philosophy of Complex Systems,Cliff Hooker (ed.).  Oxford: North Holland, pp. 177-194.

[2]The exception, of course, were the Malthusians who held that without the exercise of “moral restraint”, population will tend to increase at a rate greater than its means of subsistence, though their concerns lay principally with war, famine, and epidemics.

[3]Ackoff, Russell (1981).  Creating the Corporate Future.  New York: Wiley & Sons.

[4]ibid. p. 22.

[5]BBC News article on “Rio summit: Little progress, 20 years on” by Richard Black at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18546583- accessed 5/07/12.

[6]BBC News article on “Can the Dutch do reality TV in space?” by Anna Holligan at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18506033  - accessed 5/07/12.

[7]Roselle, as quoted in Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the human spirit. New York: Plume, 1993. P. 217.

[8]For more on these four ways of knowing, see Heron, John and Reason, Peter. A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3), 1997. P. 274-294.

[9]Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995.

[10]Goleman, Daniel. Social Intelligence: The New Science of Social Relationships.  New York: Bantam Books, 2006; Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. New York: Broadway Business, 2009.

[11]Zohar, Dana.  SQ: Spiritual Intelligence, the Ultimate Intelligence.London: Bloomsbury, 2000.

[12]Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

[13]Dawson, Ross. “Autopoiesis and how hyper-connectivity is literally bringing the networks to life,” on Trends in the Living Networks, 11 May 2010 http://rossdawsonblog.com/weblog/archives/2010/05/autopoiesis_and.html, accessed 25/06/12.

[14]Illich, Ivan. Tools for Conviviality. Marion Boyars, pubs. 2001, p. 69.

[15]Maslow, Abraham. Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper, 1954.

[16]Meadows, Donella. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.” Hartland, VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

[17]ibid., p. 19.

[18]Heron, John and Reason, Peter. A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3), 1997, p. 274-294.

[19]Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (eds.). Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001, p. 512.

[20]Cf. Pór, George. Nurturing Systemic Wisdom through Knowledge Ecology. The Systems Thinker, October 2000.

Debora Hammond, Incoming Presidential Talk, 2005

Whither Systems? | ¿A Dónde Vamos?

Debora Hammond, Ph.D.

Incoming President's Address | ISSS 49th Annual Conference | Cancun, Mexico, July 2005

Abstract

The question I ask in the title, subtitled in recognition of our Mexican hosts, pertains to both the broadly defined field of systems thinking in general and to the ISSS in particular. Specifically, I will explore what systems thinking might have to contribute to the challenges facing humanity at this juncture in our evolution, as well as the role that ISSS might play in fostering more systemic approaches in education, business, technology, and government. At an even broader level, in order to provide a context for these questions, it is important to consider where the systems that condition our lives are themselves headed. There are many indications that the current state of the world is highly unstable - whether one considers ecological issues, such as the loss of biodiversity and climate change, or sociopolitical issues, such as the increasing disparity in wealth, heightened tensions between nations, or the threat of nuclear proliferation. In what ways might the various traditions that comprise the "systems approach" contribute to resolving the increasing polarization between individuals, belief systems, and living conditions in different parts of the world? Even within the broad umbrella of systems thinking, there seems to be a growing divide between the "two cultures" (i.e. science and the humanities) that C.P. Snow (1959) identified nearly a half century ago. One of the primary goals for which the ISSS was founded was to foster the unity of knowledge, which is perhaps what makes it unique among the many systems-oriented institutions that have emerged in the interim. How might we most effectively pursue this quest and what might it mean in the context of our times?

Introduction

It is an honor to have been chosen as your president, particularly because, as Jennifer Wilby informed me when she asked if I would accept the nomination for this position, I am only the second woman president in the history of the society, the first being Margaret Mead (1972-73). I believe in the mission of ISSS and will work hard during the coming years to further that mission. Next year's conference will be the 50th annual meeting -- a significant milestone. It is important to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of all of those who have made the society what it is, and at the same time to highlight developments in other branches of systems thinking.1

As part of my preparation for next summer's conference, I spent the month of June 2005 at the Santa Fe Institute's Complex Systems Summer School, learning about the field of complex systems studies. One of my primary goals for next year's meeting is to bring in different perspectives from a variety of systems-related organizations, such as the Santa Fe Institute, the American Society for Cybernetics, and the System Dynamics Group among others. Despite their differences in orientation and approach, these various organizations share a number of goals in common, and I believe it is important to build bridges with different organizations instead of perpetuating the same kind of fragmentation of knowledge that the founders of ISSS were hoping to overcome. The challenges that we face in the world today require collaboration, cooperation, mutual understanding, openness, tolerance, and as Kenneth Boulding would say, "a willingness to see the other fellow's point of view."

Where ARE We Going?

I was in a somewhat whimsical mood when Jennifer asked for title of my talk. I chose "Whither systems?" because it seemed to capture the sense of what I hoped to discuss. Webster gives the following definition for whither: "to what place, result, or condition," which reflects the kind of questions I would like to pose to ISSS and to the systems movement in general. The image I chose to illustrate the title of my talk captured for me a small segment of the Lorenz attractor, showing the trajectory of separate paths converging and diverging. It gave me the sense of skimming along the edge of a chaotic attractor, and that chaotic attractor might be concept of systems. And the Lorenz attractor provides an appropriate visual metaphor, with its two somewhat skewed planes, which might be seen as representing the analytical and hermeneutic dimensions of systems thinking, or alternatively, perhaps, the thermodynamic and linguistic dimensions that Tim Allen so vividly demonstrated in his presentation.

In honor of our Mexican hosts, and representatives from the Latin American Systems Society (ALAS), I chose to subtitle my talk "¿A Dónde Vamos?" -- where are we going? - asking this question on three levels: Where are we going as a society, as a field of systems science, and as a whole planetary ecosystem? I will address these levels in reverse order, because the way we understand what we're facing as a planetary ecosystem should determine the direction of system science in general and ISSS in particular.

Ralph Gerard, who was one of the founders of this society, often referred to scientists as the brain of the social organism, depicting science as a kind of guidance system. Although the organismic analogy may be problematic, science does indeed help us understand the world around us in order to act more effectively in that world. Systems science emerged in part to address the increasing specialization of science and the resulting fragmentation of our collective understanding, offering an approach that integrates knowledge from the physical sciences, life sciences, and social sciences, as well as ethics, aesthetics, and spirituality.

Russell Ackoff identified three main kinds of systems: technological systems, social systems, and biological systems. Ludwig von Bertalanffy, recognized as the founder of General System Theory, said that human beings are biological organisms, but we live in world of symbols, and then suggested that it is the symbolic dimension of our lives that is at the root of most of our problems. He argued that wars are symbolic conflicts, not necessarily biological conflicts. While economics clearly plays an important role in contemporary conflicts, it would be an interesting project to try to tease apart the symbolic and biological dimensions of our economic sphere, particularly as the neo-Darwinian framework is often evoked to justify the increasing disparity in the human condition.

What is Science For?

This question was posed to me by one of the students at the Santa Fe Institute's Summer School, in response to what seemed to her to be a distortion of priorities in much contemporary research and investigation. It has always seemed to me that the primary purpose of science should be to work in service of humanity, to improve the human condition, and to preserve the integrity of the natural world, although the various institutional constraints within which contemporary science functions often serve other, occasionally conflicting aims.

In addressing the question of the purpose of science, it is important to consider the difference in orientation between theoretical and applied sciences. The primary criterion of value in theoretical science is the discovery of truth, and yet even the kinds of truths that are considered important have to be seen in the context of social, economic, and political factors. Even more significant, in relation to my topic, are the ways in which science is being applied; it is important to ask whose interests are being served, particularly in terms of the balance between public and private good.

Where are we Headed as a Planetary Ecosystem?

Beginning, then, with the planetary ecosystem, what are the trends and what are the challenges that we face? How we answer these questions might help to illuminate the directions that systems science and ISSS might want to pursue. In his plenary address, "Service Sciences, Engineering, and Management (SSEM): An Emerging Multidiscipline," Jim Spohrer identified the emerging service economy as an important trend, and spoke of the challenges of adapting to the rapidly changing dynamics in the socio-technical systems that shape our lives. At the same time, it is necessary to place these considerations in the context of what I see as two critical overarching trends: the increasing disparity between rich and poor, and the increasing worldwide acceleration of environmental degradation.

In that context, I believe that the most critical challenge facing humanity is how to create a more sustainable future. Many have commented that sustainability has become a meaningless term, because it is used by so many to mean so many different things. Nevertheless, the generally accepted definition - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs - provides a starting point for evaluating our choices, which highlights the critical dimensions of social justice and conflict resolution.

Where is the Field of Systems Science Headed?

With that as the context for the planet, where is the field of systems science going? When I first began my research on the history of systems thinking (see Hammond, The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory), I struggled to get a handle on what exactly systems theory was all about and what was the relationship between the many and varied schools of thought in that broadly conceived field. At the time, I created the following framework for thinking about the different strands of systems thinking (see Table 1). Clearly there is a lot of crossover and interrelationship between these various approaches, but this categorization helped me to identify differences in goals and general orientations.

Table 1: Schools of Thought/Practice in the Systems Field

Problem Solving

Modeling

Synthesis/Integration

New Paradigm

Systems Engineering

Systems Analysis

 

System Dynamics

Systems Ecology

Dynamical Systems

Chaos/Complexity

Cybernetics

General System(s) Theory

 

Deep Ecology

Change in Consciousness

Some of the earliest developments in the field of systems - systems engineering and systems analysis - were focused on basic problem solving in technological and organizational systems. With the evolution of more sophisticated computer technology came the ability to model the dynamics of complex systems in connection with such fields as system dynamics and the more recent fields of chaos and complexity studies. These fields tend to emphasize the mathematical and theoretical dimension of systems thinking.

Building upon the more technical orientation of the first two categories, the fields of cybernetics and general system(s) theory emerged as broader fields concerned with integration and synthesis, bringing together a wide range of disciplinary perspectives in exploring larger questions. And the final category of new paradigm thinking recognizes the significant influence of systems thinking in the emergence of deep ecology and related fields, which draw on system concepts to highlight the importance of relationship and interdependence, and the need for a change in consciousness, particularly in terms of our sense of identity in relation to the larger world of which we are a part, if we're going to move to a more sustainable culture.

Recently I put together a book proposal, with the intention of exploring how has the field of systems science has evolved in the last fifty years and the following list of emerging fields reflects the general directions that I identified:

  • Systems Practice

  • Participatory Systems Design

  • Self-Organizing Systems

  • Second Order Cybernetics

  • Systems Biology

  • Ecology & Sustainability

  • Complexity Studies

The first three of these are the ones I see as being most well represented in ISSS. Systems practice is reflected in the work of such influential systems thinkers as Russell Ackoff, C. West Churchman, Peter Checkland, and Mike Jackson, all of whom have worked with organizations to bring about change through more collaborative processes. Closely related is the kind of work that Bela Banathy and many of his students have been doing in participatory systems design. These are the areas that have been most interesting to me throughout my association with ISSS, and they are part of the much larger category of self-organizing systems - exploring the processes of self-organization in a variety of complex systems, but especially complex human socio-technical systems. An important contribution in this endeavor has been the emergence and development of second order cybernetics, which focuses not only on understanding feedback processes in physical systems, but exploring the processes of self-reflective feedback and learning in living systems.

The last three fields are probably least well represented in ISSS, and they represent areas for future outreach. Systems biology is a key area in the systems field that is re-surfacing, as we understand the dynamics of the genome and interactions among the genes. As Len Troncale has often suggested, this is a field that is currently experiencing a renaissance. Ecology and sustainability are inherently systemic fields that could be more fully integrated into the work of the society. And the field of complexity studies, which includes such topics as nonlinear chaotic dynamics, network theory, and agent-based modeling, is furthering an important part of what the ISSS was originally founded to do.

What about ISSS: Where are we Headed as a Society?

What role can we play and what is unique about what we have to offer? Before I answer that question, I wanted to reflect on the kinds of research that is represented in our membership. Drawing from the list of active Special Integration Groups (SIGs) and the general focus of papers that I have experienced in the twelve years that I've been part of the society, these are the areas of research that I identified as being most active in ISSS.

Figure 1: Active Areas of Research

Figure 1: Active Areas of Research

Management is a key area, closely related to informatics and information science. Another cluster involves concerns with organizational change, social system design, and education. Living systems, building on the work of James Grier Miller, has been a significant field within the ISSS community, although it has tended to be somewhat isolated from other developments. Although less represented at this meeting, psychology has been an important area in the past, along with such related fields as cognitive science, consciousness studies, and second order cybernetics. And lastly, probably most closely related to the founding aims of the society, are efforts toward the development of meta-theoretical frameworks and general systems theories. The clusters, as I have drawn them, reflect the fact that work in these areas is not always connected. And I think that's one of the challenges for ISSS - to find ways to integrate the work being done in the various SIGs or the various sub-clusters of general systems thinking. I appreciate the work that the Student SIG has done this year in this regard, documenting the work of the various SIGS and seeking to articulate some of the connections.

Culture Wars and the Unity of Knowledge

One of the initial aims of the society, when it was first organized in 1954, was to foster the unity of science by bringing together scholars from different disciplinary fields, to share their insights and see what they could learn from each other. This orientation toward the unity of knowledge is one of the features that makes ISSS unique among systems-oriented institutions, and it is perhaps the most important contribution that we offer in this field - because we do try to bring different perspectives together. So the question remains whether or not this is a meaningful pursuit in the context of our times, and if so how we might most effectively pursue such a quest. Personally, I see it as an important challenge, not only for ISSS, but for the world as a whole.

In August 2004, the new Provost at Sonoma State University, where I teach, sent out on our campus listserv an article by Vartan Gregorian entitled, "Colleges Must Reconstruct the Unity of Knowledge." Gregorian wrote about the fragmentation of knowledge and the problems of increasing specialization, and then suggested that in order to find meaning and to understand their role in society, students need to develop skills in synthesis and systemic thinking. He went on to say that while we have enormous amounts of information and computer systems to help us integrate it, that information alone can't help us come up with a coherent moral framework or tell us what questions are really worth asking.

What intrigued me was the vehemence of the response to this article. There was enormous resistance from several faculty members to this notion of the unity of knowledge. One person wrote about the "facility with which generalization and synthesis lead to fallacy." Another person wrote that, "knowledge is historically contingent, socially constructed, and deeply contested." And another: "At the end of his piece, Gregorian paraphrases T.S. Eliot on Dante's Inferno that 'hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing.' OK, but I would add that hell may also be a standardized world in which everything is unified into conveniently packaged and packageable wholes."

In response, the Provost wrote, "I see in this call for unity a turn back from a post-modernist fragmentation of meaning, a reaffirmation of the possibility of progress in knowledge and, finally, of progress in the human experience." To which, another faculty member responded: "Calls for a unity of knowledge, or 'consilience,' can indeed directly conflict with what is broadly called postmodernism. However, rather than regarding postmodernism primarily as fragmentation, we might also see it more positively as a democratization of discourses and an opening to perspectives heretofore marginalized by monopolistic [and as another writer added, interest dependent] claims to 'the Truth.' I cannot believe that in our globalized multicultural world we can ever go back to any unitary absolutism (unless we surrender to some variety of fundamentalism)."

There is clearly some confusion about what is meant by idea of the unity of knowledge. What ISSS offers is a place where we can bring in multiple perspectives and share our ideas with one another. There is clearly reason for concern about the potential tendency, in pursuit of the "unity of knowledge," toward a kind of disciplinary and/or theoretical imperialism. I heard this at Santa Fe Institute, toward the end of the summer school, from a faculty panel, who said that you can't do complex systems studies unless you know differential equations and linear algebra. Similarly, E.O. Wilson, in his book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, proposed an integration of the natural and social sciences using evolutionary theory as the overarching framework. What ISSS offers, in contrast, is an opportunity for bringing multiple voices together without trying to fit them into one single framework - the kind of democratization of discourses mentioned above. I believe this is a tremendously valuable contribution toward addressing the critical issues of our times, as we will never be able to solve the problems we face, if we are unable to talk to each other across the divides that have traditionally kept us from understanding - and working together with - one another.

References

Hammond, Debora, 2003. The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory (Boulder: University Press of Colorado)

Snow, C.P., 1959. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press)

Wilson, Edward O., 1998. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)

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1 Note: while the society was conceived in 1954, it was not officially founded until 1956. So, although we celebrated "fifty years of systems science" in 2004, there is also reason to celebrate 2006 as the fiftieth anniversary, without detracting from the significance of the earlier date.