The Way of Systems

“The Way of Systems” is maybe not a phrase I would choose. Religious connotations of “the way” (Christian as well as Buddhist) seem unnecessary baggage to lead with, even though I clearly see universal value in systems thinking.

But nevertheless, whenever one is looking to improve on the “orthodox scientism” of western rationality all roads have led back to eastern (oriental or aboriginal) world views ever since the pre-Socratics. Take Pythagoras for example, despite our lasting association with his maths and geometry. Talk about “footnotes to Plato”. Nothing new under the sun, so I won’t attempt a summary of every reference since. Suffice to say, even the fundamental physicists of the Schrödinger and Heisenberg vintage had a lot to say about eastern perspectives. If we skip across the whole post-modern dive into the occult and our balanced PoPoMo recovery from that, I’ll mention just two more recent. Pirsig and his 1974 “Zen and the Art …” is an obvious milestone on my own thought journey (though not until 2002 in my case, after his 1991 “Lila”) and Iain McGilchrist’s “The Matter With Things” most recently. Similarly now in our PoPoMo times, “mindful” practice has become respectable having been seen as “alternative lifestyle” material during the PoMo trough.

It’s about recognising the value of embodied and directly experienced “knowledge” alongside and integrated with more formal language models of which science is the pre-eminent example. Essentially “The Way” as the Tao of Zen Buddhism – the journey is the reality that happens to us if we pay attention, whereas the destination, the objective reality, is never fully attained even as a symbolic best-approximation intellectual model. The way is also very much aligned with a process view of the world rather than things in the world.

I say all this because of another name I came across only yesterday in the dialogue I mentioned with Bruce McNaughton – fellow-traveller  systems-thinker. That person is Gene Bellinger, who I know no more about than his web-page. Like Bruce’s and early versions of mine, Gene’s old-school hand-crafted html with links to Powerpoint and Word PDF’s. (In fact he and Russell Ackoff have a number of old YouTube recordings too.)

Gene Bellinger - YouTube

Gene’s work is “The Way of Systems and indeed his archetypes of different (sub)-system types within his Systems of Systems (SoS) model are The Way of … each topic. In fact his use of archetypes is something I’ve been driving at before. I’m very much staying in my own lane in abstract space, so I’m always at a conceptual level or several levels removed from real individual systems or things. Within that network of multiple overlapping hierarchical and heterarchical typing (and typing-by-association) relations, there are some nodes – types – of special significance independent of the many detailed relations and features of the specific real-world individuals. Archetypes.

The East-West meme above is itself an archetype, for any number of detailed classification divisions (which are all individually binary #GoodFences). Of significant value even though not a specific – definitive – thing in the real world.


[Post Notes:

Gene Bellinger’s latest consolidated work is available here, presented as a “Brain” mind-map.

And, that “Stealth Modelling” node looks fascinatingly close to my diagramming interests, with a side order of the shadow of knowledge?

And, see AJ’s comment below. The Archetypes may be closely related to the sacred, the “Ur Nodes” as in Sacred Naturalism. I love it when a plan comes together.]


3 thoughts on “The Way of Systems”

  1. “The Way of Systems,” as a book title, has the same resonance as”The Tao of Physics.” It confers an aura of the sacred onto a mundane or secular subject, As such, it does a certain job, which we could call marketing, but which is really a matter of advertising; for there is a market already hungry for the sacred. It promises to draw the connection we are seeking to our ordinary lives. The concept of an archetype is appropriate to the situation; somehow, it also carries a certain sacredness.

    I particularly enjoyed your paragraphs on the eastern perspective and the Tao.

  2. Hi AJ, The Way of, The Tao of, Zen and the Art of are indeed a marketing meme, but I think we have to see more than an “aura”?

    You know I’ve majored on the sacred recently, indeed even “come out” as a Sacred Naturalist, so I see it as more than just sprinkling of marketing magic. It’s a necessary part of a whole-world-view to recognise value beyond the objectively mundane and secular. And you’re right, hadn’t thought of it that way, but the very idea of the archetype gives some “sacred value” to those particular world nodes. Something I’ve been “driving at” as I said, but so far failed to articulate very well. Yours is good input again. Thanks.

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