Keys to System Thinking. LO24056

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 02/23/00

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to you all.

We can think of Systems Thinking (ST) as a methodology which has been
formulated explicitly since WWII. Hence it becomes simple to identify
early contributors like Von Bertalanffy and Wiener. But when we want to
trace the evolution of ST, we have to admit a pre-WWII era in which ST was
used like implict/tacit knowledge. Obviously, when we do so, we enter the
complex panorama of philosophy going back to the ancient thinkers in many
parts of the world.

An obvious question which is seldom posed and even less answered, is how
Philosophy and ST differ? The bifurcation between Philosophy and ST began
as a result of the indifference of philosophers to the cybernetic
principle -- the feedback loop so necessary for propagation and control.
Thus Philosophy remained to be a systematical framework for embedding
thoughts whereas ST became a systematical methodology for generating and
matching thoughts. Philosophy retained much of its apriorism whereas ST
replaced much of it by empiricism (observation and testable theory).

Another obvious question which is even less posed and almost never
answered, is how Philosophy and ST correspond? In both we have to deal
with some thoughts among all thoughts as a result of the
one-to-many-mapping of thoughts. In other words, in both we have to deal
with thoughts in a context which itself consists of thoughts. It means
that in both we try to picture the "evolution of thinking-thoughts".

When we compare the "evolution of thinking-thoughts" with the "evolution
of biological species", some very interesting differences and
correspondences can be noted. The most obvious difference is that the
entities involved are material (physical) for "biological species" and
abstract (spiritual) for "thoughts/thinking". The most obvious
correspondence is that both have a phylogeny (history of speciation).

The two properties common to all biological organisms are their genetics
(heredity) and enzymatics (reactivity). These properties are essential
when we want to understand biological life in general and specifically the
evolution of biological species. We may consider them as the "two keys"
for understanding physical life.

Consequently by way of analogy the question arises whether there are not
also certain keys necessary to understanding spiritual life as it is
manifested by thinking-thoughts. We may push the analogy by assuming that
there are two keys . We may push the analogy even further by assuming
these two properties have to do with memory (like heredity) and operations
(like reactivity).

But we may also study the evolution of thinking-thoughts through all the
subjects of academy since times immemorial. This is a complex job which
require the efforts of a LO rather than a LI (Learning Individual) to be
completed satisfactoraly. The overall study may be called a "taxonomy of
innovative thinking".

What we do is to draw a "phenogram" and then paint it richer into a
"cladogram". A cladogram is a network which links many
one-to-many-mappings so that the final result looks almost like a tree
with one stem becoming a few main branches, they themselves forking into
many secondary branches, etc., until we end with innumerous twigs at the
end. We may think of it as the "tree of authentically created knowledge"
which spans all ages and peoples. This tree grow in a "forest named
complexity". Complexity to me is all the perceptions of all humans through
all time.

At each node we try to pinpoint the decisive mental acts which caused a
diversification in thinking-thoughts at that node. Each node will have
many such mental acts. Then, when the picture has become sufficiently
rich, we begin to look for patterns common to these decisive mental acts.
These common patterns may then gives us the keys to System Thinking. The
number of patterns need not be two, but perhaps it can be two.

I did this since 1985. Unfortunately, I had to do it intermittently. I
also did it far too little systematically. I made little physical notes
because my time was too limited. I now realise that my memory served me
much worse than originally hoped for. Hence, please consider this
documentation as a preliminary study which is better than nothing so that
it can be improved upon vastly. My biggest anxiety is that I feel like
talking against a wall -- that I am not able to communicate to you what is
going on in my mind. Much of it is based on reading between the lines in
too many books, trying to fathom the tacit knowledge which thinkers have
used to articulate their thoughts. Now I have to put it within the lines.
Were it not for my participation and thus schooling on this list, my own
thoughts would have emerged far slower and less definitely. Thus I am very
happy to conclude what had been a most exciting project for me.

I did find two keys, but superficially they do not appear to correspond
with genetics and enzymatics as the keys to the evolution of biological
specimens. Here are the two keys to System Thinking:
        TO CREATE

I am not going to write much more on them, even though I can write books
on them. I am not even going to explain them, except to say that I have
used the minimum amount of words to describe them. The "distinction" and
the "rhythm" are nominals. I qualified "distinction" with "essential" and
"rhythm" with "harmonious" so as to give each nominal name a seminal
attractor. Please do not confuse them with the main details of System

I would much rather do an experiment together with you fellow learners.

I want to place these two keys "essential distinction" and "harmonius
rhythm" in the midst of our LO-dialogue and observe how all fellow
learners link these two keys to their own learning irrrespective of its
form or content. We can also link them to what is better known as the
learned thinking of experts -- specific examples of systems thinking.
Perhaps, if we excercise the necessary care, our LO-dialogue on them may
become a nice webcluster (of pages like a booklet).

It does not matter what we do with these two ALLEDGED keys so long as we
have a LO-dialogue on them -- we may even take pot shot at them. If they
appear to be irrelevant, say so and try to say why. If they appear to be
alien, say so and again try to say why. If they connect in strange and
unusual ways to your own thinking, say so even if you would prefer to
remain quiet. If you want to experiment with them in your own tentative
thinking, please let us in on your thoughts. Should you have keys which
suit you better, descibe them and try to relate them to these two keys. If
these two keys finally articulate what had been tacit knowledge to you for
a long time, please try to tell us more about that tacit knowledge (if it
is possible ;-). If you think that I have fallen victim to a preconceived
judgement by isolating these two keys, please say so and try to motivate
why. I have to admit that in 1969 I have read two books, both in which
these two keys played a tacit, yet decisive role. (The one was "Laws of
Form" by George Spencer-Brown and the other one was "Nonequilibrium
Thermodynamics" by Ilya Prigogine.) Thus I may have completed what is
merely a loop which began 31 years ago.

What I am self interested in, is to observe how your thinking reacts to
these two keys (in my opinion) of Systems Thinking. I have used the
minimum amount of words to describe them so that you have the maximum
opporunity to let, as Leo might say, your own mind meander with them
towards the sea of ideas. Remember, it is a new picture which we will be
painting and its richness will depend on our collective efforts ("mitsein"

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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