Thinking Systems Thoughts

Gary’s ISSS Mini Symposium (Talk) 29 June 2024

Everything can be seen as organised systems that are part of greater wholes.
(Organised in terms of functional relations – systemic interconnectedness).
Everywhere and everything.

We see complexity and confusion that can be organised as a learning system.
Complex Adaptive Systems as “Learning Organisation” (Argyris & Schon)?

Troncale’s cycle of emergence and diversification. (See also Kondratiev and Schumpeter)

Volk’s grand sequence. Sillito too (Pirsig!)
(The language of levels of static patterns – the fields we give names to – and dynamic quality – the potential and actual evolutionary change processes of interaction with the world – AIC?.)

Tom Marzolf’s hierarchy from broadest / least-constrained to narrowest / most-constrained “definitions” of systems. (Too much definition can be destructive – requisite variety and ambiguity – constructor theory, the creativity of constraint)
“3-Bears – Just right” “Points of Inflection” (Sigmoid curves) per Hrvoj Vančik 

An organising structure (as moving from Alchemy to Chemistry)
An architectural view. Facilitating opportunity. (Good architectures are lucky) Architectural is my own viewpoint – Hierarchic to Holarchic and Relational – always relational / functional relations (relations that DO something) / any holarchy is simply many overlapping binary-based taxonomic hierarchies – a “thicket”)

What, Why and How to emergent Wisdom – Psybertron

Being Better Better – Finnish Systems (?) group
(Better, Quality – Pirsig, do we need anyone to tell us these things, Phaedrus?)

Buddhism – Yin & Yang, the Tao the Tao Te Ching – aphorisms.


Jackson’s Pragmatism vs the … “AIC” framework.

SIG = Special Integration Groups – not fragmented interests
Managed / Grouped … Social > Political > Technical

(Far too long / too much … 45 mins and still going)

Outreach alignment – “a better world through a systems approach” shared with so many orgs. (I’ll say)

“Spiritual Stuff” – The Science of Spirituality !!!


Measures of success / traffic lights ! – Let’s keep “project” management distinct from systems thinking about strategic planning? (Levenchuk)

SIG Chair possibilities & responsibilities.

15 mins for Jamie.

Manel – philosophy missing the human sciences domain.
Catholic Church – long-history Jesuit / World Education.

Coherence – (Kerry) – is a good word. (Alignment too.
Integration needs to be processual, not direct physical unification – see plans)


Massively comprehensive detail – positive work, positive acknowledgement of every contribution … great, but …
Plan > Rubber > Road – too much detail – won’t survive day #1

Need to separate strategic intents and strategies from multiple “plans” rather than one master plan – coherence better than physical integration at detail level.

Science AND Spirituality (Gary’s language) …
can’t be Science (by any definition).
Response to Jamie – Sure they both evolved through human interaction and understanding in the world … but we have a good fence, a good reason to see them as different ways of viewing the world, different bases for understanding the workings of the world. Arrogant to presume one will entirely replace the other. (My ISSS2024 Session – in fact Jamie’s response is an example of the defensive position that rejects the value of spiritual talk – 2 years of which prompted my session.)

Aphorisms are more Koanish than explicit. Making them explicit completely misses them. (Gary – The Tao that can be spoken / described / defined is not the true Tao) My ISSS2024 Session (obviously, hopefully)

See earlier post – Gary mentioned.

And previous suggestion: ISUS rather than ISSS
International Society for Understanding Systems
Understanding / Epistemology is more than science
Philosophy is more than science
(Even if we don’t seriously propose changing our name – need to be honest about our scope?)


Post Notes:

[An email thread has ensued, but we’re all busy / asynchronous until we find a live synchronous opportunity. It boils down to:

(SCIENCE (plus) SPIRITUALITY) (cannot equal) (SCIENCE)

That’s illogical captain.

Find better words to make a more useful, positive, true statement … etc. Spirituality is bullshit or “woo” doesn’t actually help, does it?


We’re America

Mentioned in the dear diary entry a couple of days ago on return from the last trip that there is too much too good about the USA, given its short history, that they cannot be allowed to fuck it up for themselves or the rest of the world. We’re not all America, but we all deserve to benefit from their enlightened example, real life isn’t a repeatable experiment.

Here John Stewart says it well.


The Connections Never End

John Wilson interviewed Simon McBurney on BBC Radio 4’s “This Cultural Life and I only caught it by chance this morning. Glad I did.

[McBurney – privileged life, archaeologist father, born and raised in Cambridge, boarding school, family holidays in Jersey, Eng Lit at Cambridge, the Footlights, Parisian introduction to a creative life in the theatre … and the rest is history.]

Same age as myself give or take a few months and shared a few touch points that pricked my ears up. Sailing round Portland into Weymouth – always an impressive piece of geography to experience close-up – and being part of Rock Against Racism at Victoria Park, Hackney, Sunday April 30th 1978 – the whole goodwill march, chaotic afternoon festival and the bonus evening gig at the Roundhouse oft noted as the best musical day of my life, amidst the whole formative experience.

But the real reason I’m moved to blog is his experience with one of the Xingu tribes in Amazonian South America. Consciousness of identity shared with their forest environment beyond, not even, any self inside their heads. “It’s more complicated“, to use the vernacular for real complexity. That and the archaeological / architectural perspective of time upwards, the new evolved / supervening on the lower older layers, just like our brains and emergence in any complex system. More strings to the West Meets East bow, with “East” being more generally non-Euro/US/Western.

That “Self” being the one invented by the Humboldts and the Jena set in Andrea Wulf’s account of “The Magnificent Rebels” in Prussian Germany from 1749 to 1806 when Napoleon rolled through, with William Godwin’s influence in cultivating it’s wider adoption in the “West” not acknowledged.

This Cultural Life was followed by Ep9 of an audio abridgement of “The Stalin Affair” by Giles Milton. The importance of the (tacit / implicit / “naughty”) interpersonal communications and relationships between Churchill and Stalin amidst the explicit agreements recorded. And despite Churchill’s long stay in Moscow working intimately with Stalin, the latter’s insistence that the final formal meeting between all three – Churchill, FDR and Stalin – be as far East as possible Europewise, in Yalta.

This riff on West<>East world-view connections is itself connected to yesterday’s diary entry, well the connections never end, as I say 🙂

Received this morning Mike Jackson’s (2003) “Systems Thinking – Creative Holism (for Managers)” in which, in response to that previous post, Mike pointed out he had in fact quoted Pirsig in his work, the epigraph to Ch15 of said book, explaining his holistic subtitle:

“This is the source of the trouble. Persons tend to think and feel exclusively in one mode or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is about …. To reject that part of the Buddha that attends to the analysis of motorcycles is to miss the Buddha entirely.” Pirsig (1974)

2003 incidentally is exactly the year I pointed-out Dave Snowden drawing on a Pirsig quote. What goes around comes around.

[Andrea Wulf was the first of the Annual Mike Jackson lecturer’s at Hull Uni … sadly no recording exists.]

Onwards and upward (as time would have it).


The Cartoon History of Time

Hawking’s “Brief History of Time” (1988) is something I read back when it was first a best-seller – bought as a present for me by a parent or family friend IIRC – long before I discovered the research topic that became “Psybertron”. Sometime late 90’s not long before I did start here, we bought Kate Charlesworth and John Gribbin “The Cartoon History of Time” (1990) possibly as a present for one of our sons (I think) and I inherited that copy over many moves of residence right up to today.

It’s still my go-to resource when relating to any new physics “evolution of the cosmos” style in the 21st C – think Krauss or Carroll or Rovelli or … so thumbed that for a few years now it’s 68 pages – full-colour / heavy-paper / card – have totally fallen apart, held together in a bulldog clip. I spent several days of effort scanning and collating an electronic copy before I noticed that Dover Publications had re-published a 2013 edition and that now included a Kindle copy. Which I have recently acquired:


Post Note:

And the problem with Hawking’s original, and so many science-inspired people since – is the arrogance of this quote:

“The eventual goal of science
is to provide a single theory
that describes the whole universe.”

Completely dismissing the “more than science” agenda of my recent post / talks / workshops. Gribbin and Charlesworth stick to the physical science.


Dear Diary – June 2024 – Systems, USA and Tyranny

This should probably be three or four separate posts, but after a two week hiatus – the ISSS conference in Washington DC and another week touring the wider DC, MD, VA, DE, Chesapeake area – I have so much not written over and above the writing project I’ve already stalled until after my next US trip – the Robert Pirsig Association #ZMM50thRide events in July. So I’m just crashing down notes in a holding post, in no particular order:

ISSS Conference Workshop

“Divided by a Common Language
or The Tyranny of the Explicit
Workshop by Ian Glendinning,
Tuesday, June 11, 2024 – 4:30 PM-6:00 PM ET

Meta – It actually went OK, got good feedback, and I am collating the notes that will capture its value (recording in the link above), but a missed opportunity on several levels. Technologically the hybrid participation arrangements, the tech support knew their technology but not the human processes of communication and participation – essentially random which devices controlled presenting or controlled audience participation, and which mic’s, speakers, screens and UI’s were in play in which parts of the process in different room set-ups. Made for a shaky start, and I never quite got the clarity of flow – but fortunately I only needed to talk for 15/20 mins before we went into dialogic mode. Though even then, there was no concession to hybrid round-table format. Anyway – we muddled through and some participants were able to give good contributions. Thanks to everyone for that.

More on the specific content later, but generally the experience of the conference (and my topic) followed-on from my last post about the process of properly integrating such diverse and evolving stories of systems thinking. So many perspectives and approaches seeming to compete, and dare I say dismiss / ignore / pigeon-hole / silo each other, when what is really needed is proper integration and consolidation. ‘Twas ever thus.

Funnily enough when I first mentioned my “Tyranny” sub-title here back in 2016 – (and an earlier version in 2010 Hat tip to Johnnie Moore, John Husband and David Gray, and to Dave Snowden for keeping it alive in this complex self-adaptive systems space) – I already suggested “my whole agenda” in here – again – so yet again I really should not delay my own writing any further after July and before the year-end.

It’s All Connected

Whilst playing tourists after the conference – it was ludicrously hot in downtown DC – but we walked all the obvious places, and found the less obvious connections. The memorials – presidents Washington and Lincoln obvious at opposite ends of the reflecting pool – less obviously Jefferson, FDR & Eleanor, MLK, WWII and Vietnam – monuments all creatively different in their messages and how they conveyed them. Moving – and reassuring – that a nation carves in stone the words and names of those it values. The US short history is a special case the whole world needs to benefit from. Most obviously global unity in place of conflict in the FDR & Eleanor case, but those same values all the way through from Jefferson’s words to the otherwise silent naming of US Vietnam losses, a pointless war of little value. Couldn’t fail to have Jefferson’s words evoke the global ecological ideas of Humboldt.

The Lincoln monument’s monumental impression is currently largely obscured by the construction of a new “undercroft” visitor centre.

Strangely divided – state and federal authorities? – between the monumental and working ends of the National Mall. Loads of drinking-water fountains around the monumental end, none to be found up the hill to the Capitol, Library of Congress and Supreme Court end – see crazy hot.

And then the surprise, despite no skyscrapers, of the monumental scale and style of so many other official buildings of state – Palladian, stone, symmetry – including the many Smithsonian buildings along the Mall. We did of course visit the The Smithsonian Museum of American History too, and specifically the Zen and the Open Road exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. More later.

Visiting the wider Chesapeake area reminded us how much we do love the US after previously living there in the deep south and touring all points south, west and north, but never yet the north-east.

Rural outside the towns – but not the wilderness or parks – shows tremendous pride of place in their homes and produce of their cultivated land. The old-colonial towns like Chestertown. Does everybody own a boat – just so many as far as the eye can see at every water accessible landing or marina boardwalk. (Hat tip to Sevilla King accommodating us a couple of nights at Rock Hall nr Chestertown.)

Hat tip also to Robin Benjamins who provided us with breakfast one day – great to meet-up with him and Marjan – and have them recommend Chincoteague / Assateague islands on the Atlantic coast of Chesapeake Virginia & Maryland. Largely unspoiled unlike the sprawling Ocean City strip we subsequently drove through 15 miles of out of curiosity – think Atlantic City / Boardwalk Empire of New Jersey – dire ecologically. Elsewhere, wildlife diverse and multitudinous on land, in the sea and air. Dozens of bird species. From Bald Eagle, Buzzard and various Hawks to Fish Eagle / Osprey’s nesting on most available over-water posts, many different Herons and Egrets, Pelicans and Ibises of 2 or 3 kinds, many shore waders, Swallows and Martins and many different Sparrows, Thrushes, Shrikes and Starlings, of the common and exotic varieties, including Redwing Blackbirds, disturbed from rushes and reeds as we passed their marshes. Exactly as described by Pirsig in the opening pages of ZMM.

Minneapolis to Montana and back to Systems

8th to 13th July I’m supporting the first half of the Robert Pirsig Association 50th Anniversary ZMM ride (in a rented car). Speaking on the 7th before we depart Minneapolis, MN and a couple of times en-route in Oakes, ND and Miles City, MT with tours of the library and museum collections arranged on the Montana State campus in Bozeman, MT. Some preparation to do for all these.

That would be a single chapter in its own right, one planned to be followed by my own writing project, but it’s all connected. Not just my original 2002 inroad to philosophy beyond science and systems engineering, but reassuringly in so many of the contributions to the ISSS conference (*) searching for the Eastern / Aboriginal (non-Western)  world-views in our tacit / implicit / embodied engagement with the world. But where is the integration with our default orthodox scientific explicit worldview? The true Tao is not the Tao that can be (explicitly) spoken. The unspoken point of my workshop above, correctly paraphrased by Gary Smith.

(*) I need to summarise more of the contributions, many of which were in fact a surprise to me at the conference despite two years of ISSS engagement via mini-symposia and more – Gary Smith, David Ing and Tomas Wong most obviously, but others more subtly Hrvoj Vančik and Rosa Zubizarreta as well as our Mexican members for example … (A current Pirsig research project is his anthropological investigations in Mexico that pre-dated his post-Korea reading of Northrop’s Meeting of East and West – which also majors on Mexico – before both Zen and “those pesky redskins”.)

Incidentally and Finally

I mentioned in my last post, linked earlier above, that I had acquired some more books recently:

    • Mike Jackson
      “Critical Systems Thinking – a Practitioners Guide”
    • Ramage and Shipp
      “Systems Thinkers”
    • Siri Hustvedt
      “Delusions of Certainty – Reflections on the Mind-Body Problem”

Well, I managed to find time to read them.

Ramage and Shipp does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a fine summary and short history of systems thinking as I already noted. Recommended, if you need one.

Mike Jackson’s book is what you’d expect, knowledgeable, comprehensive, connected and simply written in an easy style – recommended for that alone. Highlights for me are that it included a wide range of source references outside the core subject thinkers, most if not all already covered here. And an overwhelming sense of being positively underwhelming. Can there really be any more to say that hasn’t already been said, any new magic-bullets to be recommended? No, there can’t. All practitioner methods and procedures are context-contingent and depend on the wisdom of selective use. Rules being for guidance of the wise and the obedience of fools, as I would say. That wisdom comes from much wider sources than the explicit subject matter at hand. His “EPIC” methodology – which he assures was partly tongue-in-cheek – is an example of the underwhelming reach beyond common sense when it comes recommendations. The real recommendation is Pragmatism by any other name. I still find branding his work “Critical” ST grates with me, but that’s really all the critical epithet means – use ST, but don’t lose your critical faculties – of wisdom – in appreciating, evaluating and using the theories & methodologies out there. Hopefully not damning by faint praise, these are wise words.

[Interesting shared refs in Jackson – beyond the explicit complex systems subject matter – include: Snowden, Koestler, Wittgenstein, Edmonds, Anscombe, Foot, Midgley, Murdoch, Kant, Wulf & Humboldt, Blake, (Bob) Dylan, the “getsalts”, Habermas, McGilchrist, Toulmin, Spinoza, Taleb, “Santa Fe”, Heylighen, Boulding, Ulrich and all the US Pragmatists (except Pirsig), Burrell & Morgan, Lakoff & Johnson, Donella Meadows, Mazzucato & Raworth, “the Tavistock”, Ulanovicz, Beer, Espinoza and Morozov, “Rich Pictures”, Deming, Buckie-Fuller, Lao Tzu. No Dennett, no Pirsig(*)]

Siri Hustvedt is clearly on the right side of the of explicit-scientistic vs implicit-humanistic “good fence” countering the arrogance of certainty on the one side, but for me she spends too much time attacking those she finds in error rather than finding constructive integrations. One example is Steven Pinker

 In “How the Mind Works”, Pinker has come down firmly on the side of nature in the nature/nurture debate.

In “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”, Pinker makes many claims for traits rooted in biology. “Biology” here is weighted toward the built-in and fixed, as opposed to the learned and changing.

Hustvedt, Siri. The Delusions of Certainty
(Kindle Locations 809-810). Hodder & Stoughton.

No he doesn’t. The way we develop, behave and learn are rooted in biology, but he is very clear that – roughly speaking (**) – our traits are only 5/10%  genetically determined, 30/40% from parental guidance and formal education and 50/60% from wider life and peer-group experience – but the behaviour and psychology in all of those are also rooted in biology. Nature / nurture is a good fence like all taxonomic / epistemic / ontological distinctions. We’re dealing with complex self-adaptive systems here. As I always say of Pinker, anyone married to Rebecca Goldstein can’t be all bad?
[(**) obviously these overall rough averages vary enormously across different kinds of propensities and traits]

Hustvedt, like Jackson, is meta to the actual subject, about specific methodologies and sciences, not being these.

[As well as Pinker (and Dawkins) many other shared references in Hustvedt, not always positive: – Solms, Friston, Panksepp, (Margaret) Cavendish, Spinoza, Whitehead, Arendt, Goethe, Dowling, Hughlings-Jackson, Wiener, Turing, Freud, Pribram, McCulloch, von Neumann, Deutsch, Bergson, Weil, Maturana & Varela, Edelman, (Andy) Clarke, (Wm) James, Damasio and many of the usual philosophers. (No Wittgenstein or Wulf or McGilchrist or Pirsig and for Dennett, only Consciousness Explained – Jeez!)]

Enough Already!

So much writing to flesh-out and join-up in all of the above.

[(*) And the connections never end – already continued here.]


Brief History of Systems Thinking

I formed my own view of how Systems Thinking came to be the umbrella term for what I’m about, and I can be quite dismissive of the choice of labelling given to different approaches and methodologies – which always feel like selling different commercial education and consultancy offerings. And when reading and researching about the evolution of any topic, the reading list is never-ending. We all stand on the shoulders of giant termite colonies as well as individual giants.

Since I’m more of an architect, concerned with the general conceptual topology of my topic, I can pragmatically leave details to individual practitioners, who will anyway, always discover that, however detailed, objectively driven planning rarely survives contact with actual implementation context beyond day one – the essential nature of complexity. Which isn’t to say planning doesn’t have its value, but I’m pragmatically more concerned with setting expectations and understanding of the planned than the plan itself.

A Brief History of Systems Thinking is an article created by The Systems Thinking Alliance shared on LinkedIn. Looks like a great summary to me, well presented in a couple of block-diagrams – original typos fixed.

I was already working-up to acquiring Mike Jackson’s latest “Critical Systems Thinking – A Practitioners Guide” even though, for reasons noted above, the “critical” and the “practitioner” language have previously been a turn-off. Mike was generous enough to like and share the Brief History article and recommend that the main acknowledged source “Systems Thinkers” by Ramage and Shipp was itself valuable. I’ve now acquired both. (Mentioned Mike several times recently, alongside references to Dave Snowden’s “Cynefin” – they represent two aspects of Systems Thinking that I am trying to reconcile, thought clearly the market-place sustains multiple alternative approaches.)

As well as these two named current thinker / practitioners, the article also references Fritjof Capra’s latest and Donella Meadows, both of which I’ve overlooked and will have to pick-up, unlike Alexander Bogdanov whose pioneering work makes the historical text but not the visual summaries. Otherwise a couple of dozen sources all mentioned here previously, one-way-or-another.

Brief but recommended read.

Key words for me are Systems, Cybernetics and Complexity – the first two being synonymous at my level of abstraction, and the latter their reason to exist. All else are context-specific detail qualifications of methods and/or processes or are entirely meta, the choices of words like science, theory, thinking, knowledge, understanding are all aspects of human cultural psychology, which are themselves a complex cybernetic system.

(Hence Psybertron and Psybernetics.)

      • And incidentally, the ontology <> epistemology axis on the second diagram disappears for me, there is no ontology without epistemology, humans use the latter to create the former. I talk of my own “epistemological ontology” which is that complex (human) cybernetic system.
      • Interesting that operations research (OR) is presented as a stranded island on the left. Consistent with my own recent experience understanding that OR really was / is part of the same management of organisational complexity – lost because its choice of naming disguises the relationship to systems (operations?) and practice (research?) Ultimately this whole subject is a language game – some looking to reconcile understanding others gaming the market, the most important market being that for attention.
      • Interesting too to see Argyris and Schon mentioned, an early part of my journey back in the 1980’s/90’s before I really knew what my topic was.
      • First and second cybernetics I see as more complex. It’s not just the “order” in single-feedback or multiple-feedback-&-forward loop system control sense, but “meta” in how complex the agents within the system and eco-system are acknowledged and modelled. And indeed, the “priorities” of the originators of cybernetics itself – always intended to be about complex organic living human psycho-socio-cultural systems beyond mechanistic machines. (Once the parts and wholes and ecosystem are living / organic with agency, evolution is in play every-which-way.)

Fascinating to see the whole summarised this way.


Post Note – one thread on LinkedIn suggesting that the “critical” in Mike Jackson’s work “pays respect to” the view of Edgar Morin’s work – avoiding the explicit disjointed mechanisation of systems and their causal processes?

Edgar Morin on Systems and Complexity


Turning 50: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Turning 50: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is a BBC Radio 4 “Archive on 4” edition broadcast last weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of publication of Robert Pirsig’s “culture-bearing” book in 1974. #ZMM50th

The host and interviewer is Dr Chris Harding, the voice of BBC Radio 3’s “Free Thinking” so I really shouldn’t have been surprised at what an excellent documentary the BBC has created. (At the Robert Pirsig Association (RPA) we had helped with existing audio-visual resources and contacts, but I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t properly twigged who “Chris” was until listening to the result. Well done to the production team, Sam Peach and Luke Mulhall for making it happen.)

“Blimey!” was my initial reaction shared with the RPA team “I was waiting with ‘bated breath to hear the result. A truly excellent piece of work, from beginning to end – a whole hour documentary on Pirsig and Quality. Chris Harding clearly knew his subject, empathetic and creative in the selection and construction of content.”

And others responded, some already on their 2nd and 3rd listenings …

“Yes, great job!”

“Excellent selection and mixing of interviews and readings, the overall creative design.”

“It is wonderful! Touching on Quality as the ultimate origin, which is my own #1, life-changing takeaway from the book.”

“The BBC production is indeed excellent !!! ”

“Loved the interview with Jonathan Rowson as well as the creative selection of existing recordings and readings. The exhaustion with the profound, the choice of putting values at the centre, very insightful from Rufus Hound. Great to finish on the same story – told twice from both sides – of Bob and Jim first meeting each other after publication. The whole hour is a great piece of work. The profound in the cliché. Not really mad. Brilliant”

As well as Chris’ own interviews with Bob’s widow and archivist Wendy Pirsig, Bob’s original editor Jim Landis, comedian & actor Rufus Hound, philosopher and chess grand-master Jonathan Rowson and poet & law professor Ann Tweedy – there was a selection of archive recordings from python Michel Palin with reference to playwright Alan Bennett, DJ Johnnie Walker, artist Grayson Perry and more. Fascinating, life-changing snippets of biography woven into a compelling story of why ZMM remains vital for human attention to our relationship with technology, fathers with sons, and with fellow humans in the wider world. Vital to our mental health, individually and culturally.

A gem of a documentary that will be a landmark of lasting value – true Quality.


See previously on Psybertron:

Jonathan Rowson on “Attention as a Moral Act” and the connection from Pirsig to Iain McGilhrist’s worldview. (Post Note: Jonathan Rowson’s own reflections on the interview and the documentary and more.)

Salman Rushdie and Robert Pirsig – As well as referencing Pirsig’s use of Chautauqua, Gumption and Quality in his latest book “Knife in which Rushdie also describes writing and talking about his previous book Victory City, he also mentioned the significance of Pirsig’s ZMM when interviewed about Quichotte, his book before that.

Rushdie’s 2019 book Quichotte is a sci-fi, magical realist retelling of Cervante’s Don Quixote by way of the American roadtrip novel, influenced in part by Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As Rushdie explains in an Audible Blog interview with Tricia Ford…

“…actually, one of the books that helped me, strangely, was again an old book that happened to have some kind of anniversary, and I picked it up again, which is Robert Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And in which I thought, never mind about the Zen and never mind about the motorcycle maintenance, but in the middle of it, there’s this very beautifully told relationship between him and his son going on this motorbike ride across America to try and get closer. And I thought, mine is also a novel about fathers and sons. And there are two father-son relationships in the book that are both very central to it

… And that was a book that helped me think about that.”

Testimonials from more Pirsig readers at the Robert Pirsig Association (RPA) in this #ZMM50th year.


May 2024 Half-Way Update

More than half-way through May and I’ve not posted since the last weekend in April . Distracted by several things since the Robert Pirsig Association’s inaugural #ZMM50th anniversary Chautauqua on Sunday 28th.

      • Partly just reflection time on where next (?) for the RPA and taking the weather-window opportunity (at last) for garden chores and walking on the coast and moors through which to cogitate and meditate.
      • Partly diversion at short-notice last week to do a session for Teesside “Skeptics in the Pub” – brief presentation and longer discussion on “There is More Than Science – It’s Complicated.
      • Partly planning for the old-school 50th (and last?) anniversary reunion plus winding-up and archiving of the original “old-boys” alumni association.

And largely detail arrangements and bookings for two upcoming US trips.

      • Early June – the day after the above reunion (!) – the International Society for Systems Sciences (ISSS) 2024 conference in Washington DC, where I’m hoping to meet in person a number of important thinkers, and hoping I will have a session on language to communicate between scientific and humanistic (systems) thinkers (of which that there is “more than” science – above – is first-base – the need for such dialogue. (The #ItsComplicated tag is the systems response to “complexity sciences”.)
      • Early July – after a couple of weeks back home in UK – the ZMM50thRide, starting (for me) with events in Minneapolis, Mn and  ending with events in Bozeman, Mt.

Anyway, although I’ve not written on Psybertron in that time a couple of things have come up in recent weeks and days:

      • The whole decade-long Gender Self-ID debacle having come to a head –  in the UK – in the final version of the Cass Report, despite the findings being released 2 years earlier. Meltdown amidst Greens and ScotsNats factions with sanity restored in (Tory) Westminster government via Gillian Keegan. Would that the more social / liberal / democrat parties catch up rather than beating-up Tories with fake propaganda! We have until the November (?) election to sort this out. (Related – in local club and government democracy, two separate debacles in votes of no confidence against good-faith volunteers instead of progressive policy or constructive action.) #BinaryDestructionRules #MisunderstoodDemocracy
      • A fascinating discussion between Philip Ball & Iain McGilchrist about Philip’s latest book on the new paradigm / new biology of “Life” – Templeton-sponsored which will antagonise the scientistic 🙂
        (Some notes below, but if you can’t face watching the whole, just appreciate Philip’s first reaction to Iain’s input at 14:26 – “strategic” handling of meaning and purpose taboos in science.)
      • To be compared with a less than fascinating X/Twitter thread with James Croft (a Humanists UK Chaplain) in reaction to a one minute clip of Liz Oldfield correcting a misguided (scientistic) take on where the “spiritual” aspect of McGilchrist’s work fits real life. Real life which in Liz’s case involves Christian theistic belief. Mine doesn’t but she is so right about the morality of attention. The thread went back to Iain’s 2009 book Master and Emissary and early critical responses from Owen Flanagan (an appalling review in Nature?) and Kenan Malik (a talking past each other, off on the wrong foot, misunderstanding? Really about this RSA Report – pdf download here.) Content-free and meta to Iain’s actual content – in fact an illustration of the embedded received wisdom in science’s reaction to non-scientific taboos. Open to clarifying discussion if criticisms can be made of specific content?


More (raw) notes on watching the Philip Ball dialogue with Iain McGilchrist:

Philip’s nagging doubts in the productive operations of science as editor at Nature. (Same starting point for me, nagging doubts about something missing in physical science modelling of real-world organic, human organisations.)

“Systems Biology at Harvard” – Same systems response to complexity

Iain – “The barren-ness of the reductive exercise on causality.”

14:26 Philip’s “strategic” reaction to Iain’s first input
Meaning and purpose taboos.

The machine metaphor is the problem. (If we’re going to use computing machine / systems language – as I do – we have to be very clear it’s a very special non-mechanistic kind of machine we’re talking about – above some complexity threshold – an organism.)

What’s missing is something in “informational terms” – a computational metaphor in some sense.

Embryonic development beyond genetics.

Information as “to give form” – a verb.

It’s all there.


Post Note – I am a fan of Malik in several contexts, and in particular found his “Quest for a Moral Compass” excellent, and yet even then I remarked as “telling” on his “scientistic” tendencies that kept these cultural / moral / values issues distinct from factual truths – something I’d already detected in his engagement in the post-9/11 God vs Science wars (and probably his earlier reaction to McGilchrist). They are distinct – #GoodFences – but that’s no excuse not to understand the true relationship between them, an understanding that it’s nothing so crass as to suggest that one can be explained causally in terms of the other. In fact that’s the point here – that barren-ness!