Monday, May 26, 2008

Systemic insights: some gems from recent reading

1. From Bernard Poerkson's 'The certainty of uncertainty' , subtitled 'Dialogues Introducing Constructivism'. I found this an engaging read as it provides insights into the history and nature of those interviewed (Von Foerster, Von Glaserfield, Maturana, Varela, Roth, Schmidt, Stierlin and Watzlawick). Some excerpts that I particularly liked:

(a) Helm Stierlin

'Systemic thinking can only be learned through one's work; it cannot be instilled into others; it needs time to gather, experience and make mistakes' p. 164.

' A system is a totality, which possesses a quality that is more than the sum total of its elements. What observers accept as a system, depends on them and on the answer to the question of where the boundary between system and environment is drawn. Is a bacterium, a rat, a human being, or a family a system? Systems are in my view, more or less meaningful observer constructs. ...' p. 166.

'The more we recognise ourselves as the constructors of our relational realities, the better we comprehend ourselves as responsible for the realities we have constructed' p. 159

'My own responsibility and my autonomy will become clear to me only if I become aware of how dependent I am upon others.' p. 160

(b) Paul Watzlawick

'Different attributions of meaning produce what I call second-order reality. This is the level of sense attribution and variable views of the world, which cannot be described and clearly defined objectively for all time. It cannot be decided who is right or wrong. By contrast, I call the level of actual events and indubitable facts first-order reality'. p. 179.

'There are obviously religious claims to truth that have no terrorist or violent consequences at all. I am, however, referring to those ideologues who claim to have established how humankind must be organised to reach the final state of happiness and to realise eternal truth. The consequences can be dreadful if people of this persuasion manage to occupy positions of power that enable them to impose their truth in an authoritarian way and to bully other people on the grounds of the accusation that they are sabotaging the true view of the world. Early stages of such a way of thinking may be discovered in Plato's Republic, where one may read about the wise ruler's, the philosopher king's alleged ethical right to impose his wisdom on humankind, if necessary by means of force.' pp. 181-2.

'in cybernetics, the complexity reducer is an incursion that does not destroy high complexity but only reduces it to useful and manageable proportions' p. 184

2. From Frank Fisher's book 'Response Ability. Environment, Health and everyday Transcendence'.

'Among environmentally concerned people ecosystem would appear to take precedence over literacy, for without it there is no life and literacy is an outgrowth of that. Look again at the last sentence and it will be obvious that without an understanding of English we would not have been able to read it, much less understand what 'life' in the sentence refers to. So literacy is primary. Indeed the system that is language has given rise to the idea of ecosystem'. p. 14

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