Systems Thinking and Sustainability

In my prior post, “We are Air,” I introduced the idea of systems thinking via the duo of Gregory Bateson (with a hat tip to his daughter Nora) and the biologist David Suzuki. The driving force behind my scholarship and my life’s work is the idea that the world offers sufficient opportunity for learning, particularly via our respective communities, that the medium of education ought to be rethought, particularly in an age when information is abundant and easily accessed. Specific categories of knowledge and practical skills, while still important, are secondary to our training in systems thinking, in fostering what can be described as “the ecological mind.”

Lewis Mumford meant something like this when he proposed that we shift our culture to the techno-organic. Buckminster Fuller certainly suggested as much in developing his Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (CADS). Bateson directly addressed the subject in his literature, including “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.” And, the dual disciplines of general semantics and media ecology deal directly with this frame of mind, via Korzybski and McLuhan, to extend the notion of our natural environment to include our symbolic environments, be they language-based or otherwise technologically derived.

The Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra, who has written several important works, including the “Tao of Physics,” and the extraordinary look at the life of Leonardo DaVinci, titled, “The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius of the Renaissance,” has made systems thinking and sustainability in education a mission via the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California. He’s introduced the subject in a lecture-style presentation via YouTube, in three parts:

The ideas expressed in these videos, and in the mission of the Center, are described as “ecoliteracy,” and in many ways overlap the mission of both general semantics and media ecology at a very practical level. In practice, both theory groups are concerned with putting individuals in touch with the technologies and technics (including language) that humans use to decipher, define, and relate. Equilibrium is at the heart of the practical science, but “dynamic balance” could be considered the key phrase that binds each together, and from an educationist’s perspective is what Neil Postman was driving at when he wrote of the thermostatic view of education in “Teaching as a Conserving Activity.” There are also hints of Maturana and Varela’s autopoeisis and evolution in Capra’s talk, not to mention cybernetics which drives much of the theory, all ripe subjects for further discussion in this context.

I’ll have more to say about this as I go, but Capra’s video’s are an interesting and important part of the conversation….so there you have them.

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About mikeplugh

Media Ecology General Semantics Baseball Japan Fordham University
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One Response to Systems Thinking and Sustainability

  1. Pingback: Systems Thinking and Sustainability (via Mike Plugh) « awfully simple

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