To move beyond an ‘industrialised mind’, we need to look outside of the thinking that has created the problems. As the dominant worldview, the industrialised mindset has resulted in the destabilisation of systems and a rush toward the cliff edge of sustainability.
The new sciences that explore systems have revealed a more expansive and inclusive world view that offers solution and transformational outcomes. In this blog I provide an introduction to systems, the related concepts, and what this offers for a better future. I also highlight the incredible importance of indigenous and ancient wisdom for sustainability and transformation.
What is a Transformational system
What constitutes a transformational systems is easily described. However understanding them, how they behave and the implications of their behaviour requires a conceptual shift. Don’t worry if some of the concepts seem difficult to understand. They are not complicated, simply a different way of thinking which will unfold over time. I will expand on these concepts in later blog posts with more information, examples, and relevant story.
In reading this material take your time with it to allow a shift in understanding and conceptualisation. Feel free to copy this information and paste it into a word document for later reading.
Here are three fundamental understandings to get you started in your exploration of a new worldview that is emerging.
A system is a group of elements that are interactive with each other so they form a whole. For example, our body has many subsystems and components interacting so that it can function as a co-ordinated whole.
A self organising system has the ability to achieve order without the need of external direction or control. This emerges spontaneously due to the interactivity of the components within it. An animal herd and schools of fish are examples.
A transformational system has an ability to radically and suddenly change its internal order for greater efficiency to cope with increased demand from its environment.
Characteristics of a Transformational System
In its simplest form a transformational system has the following characteristics:
- It is recognizable as a system and therefore bounded in some way. That is, it can be identified and distinguished from its environment.
- It has three or more interactive subcomponents.
- It is open. This means it exchanges energy and information so that it is interactive with its environment including other systems.
- It has a feedback loop. Information about the system’s behaviour is available to the system as processing input.
- It has the ability to integrate information from its environment as required for transformational shifts in its organization and efficiency.
Here is a simple diagram of a transformational system based on oursleves as spiritual beings embodied in a human condition:
This diagram provides a static representation which is useful. However, transformational systems are not objects, nor are they static. Their behaviour adds another dimension which is critical to understanding them.
Behaviour of a transformational system
A great way to understand the behaviour of such a system is to break it into stages, and then have a look at its global behaviour.
Stages of behaviour
- A system such as this with a controlled constant input of energy will find the most efficient way of processing the energy, and settle into stable behaviour. This is self organisation.
- If you nudge the system, it may wobble a little, but it will return to stability fairly quickly.
- If the input of energy into the system is increased over time, more is demanded of the system. Eventually the pre-existing processing pattern will begin to loose efficiency.
- With this comes greater instability within the processing of the system and a decreased ability to return to previous stability.
- Eventually the system will be unable to cope and will become chaotic.
Once the system becomes chaotic there are five broad outcomes that are possible (as far as I am aware). The system will:
- 1. Stay chaotic;
- 2. Self-destruct or dissipate;
- 3. Split (or bifurcate) into two or more independent systems to deal with the energy;
- 4. Attempt to return to previous stability if it is self-aware by closing down input or locking up energy within the system;
- 5. Transform: If the necessary organizing principles are present within the system it will transform its internal structure; so that it has increased processing capacity and efficiency, and again becomes stable.
Additional increases in energy input will inflate any of these outcomes. For the first four this becomes increasingly problematic. With a transformational outcome however, the system will re-stabilize with increased capacity and complexity. If the energy input continues to increase, it will once again eventually reach the opportunity for further transformation, and so on. In this way, evolution of the dynamical system is ongoing.. In between these periods of transformation however, there may not be much observable change in the behaviour of the system.
Globally – More features of Transformational Systems
A transformational outcome is amazing. However there are many qualities of transformational systems that defy the laws of classical science, making them even more incredibly interesting and a source of rich explanation. Of particular interest are the features listed below. To illustrate relevancy I provide simple examples relating to an individual and the formation of community. This section is for those who like detail, however if you are not one of those, simply read the bold headers and check out the ones that get your interest.
- Phenomena can emerge from transformational systems and they are therefore essentially creative: For example, the body you inhabit has emerged from creative nature. It has evolved supported by the natural systems around it. Your body consists of many interactive physical subsystems and from this emerges emotions, thought, consciousness and much more. To take this to the community level, when people live or work together interactively, social systems and identity develop with great creative output. The more transformationally functional a cultural system is, the more informed are the creative outputs.
- They are interconnected with all of existence, are interdependent, and therefore cannot exist in isolation: Simplistically, your body would not continue to exist without the elements and forces that brought it into being. Similarly social systems and culture depend upon internal and external interactive and interdependent relationships at all levels to sustain and evolve.
- There is no central controlling unit: Complex systems with transformational potential do not have a central controlling unit. Rather the processing and system control is distributed across the entire system and has global properties rather than local properties. In its interactivity with other systems, or if the system is a subcomponent of a larger system, the distributed processing and control extends beyond that system to the global system. Think in terms of an individual embedded in a community. They influence each other. This also redefines ego as the part of personality that has been conditioned to believe it is the central control unit.
- The whole can be greater than the sum of its parts: That you have personality, intelligence, and can read this demonstrates you are more than the sum of your parts. Likewise the capacity of a community is going to be greater than the sum of the individual members. Hence, when community forms it becomes more effective at problem solving, lifting of heavy things, sustainability, defence, creative ability, ease of living, etc.
- Causality operates simultaneously from the bottom up and the top down:I prefer to think of this as inside out and outside in causality as it adds additional dimensions. Global order emerges from local activity and, once established, influences local activity which continues to influence global order, and so on. Individuals interacting with each other give rise to and sustain community and culture (bottom up or inside out causality). Once culture has formed it has a causal influence on and sustains the people within it (top down or outside in causality).
- Causality is irreducibly complex and cannot be isolated to one thing: For any community event there are internal, cultural, and external influences. Any influence (cause) within itself has emerged from other influences (causes) and so on. Thus the interactive and interdependent nature of transformational systems weaves a complex web that makes isolation of cause impossible. The more you move out from the event or travel back or forward in time, the more causal influences there are. Tracking ‘cause’ in this way for explanation or control becomes meaningless.
- Initial conditions of formation are very influential in further development and transformation: The circumstances for people getting together; such as purpose, individual qualities, pre-existing beliefs, etc. will be present in the emergent culture and therefore causal at the cultural level. Once established these influences are usually very resilient and determine future direction along with transformational capacity. For example, take a look at political and religious communities. For the individual, it is well known that formative experiences are very resilient and have a significant influence in development, personality and realization of potential.
- Transformational systems cannot be controlled or fully understood by the application of classical science: Have computers resulted in the use of less paper? The promise of the scientific and technological revolutions was a better life, greater peace, more free time, equality, increased safety and greater happiness for all. Whilst classical science has given us many great things it is clearly limited and cannot solve or control transformational outcomes. In fact, if a transformational system were to be controlled it would no longer be a natural transformation system.
- Encoded within them is their complete history: Complex system researchers state this clearly. Community has its history encoded in story, belief and its creative output. As individuals, we have conscious and unconscious memory.
- They can undergo sudden change: This is known as nonlinearity in the sciences. History is full of examples of cultures that have suddenly become chaotic, self-destructive, split, retreated into isolation or transformed after periods of stable existence. At an individual level I am sure you have experienced sudden changes of awareness, heart, mind, belief, direction, wakefulness, emotion and health.
- Chaos can be an indicator that transformation is occurring: Transformation is a process of reorganisation. Therefore the system must release existing patterns for that to occur. During this time there is disorder or chaos. There is healthy chaos in this way but there can also be wildly chaotic states that are unhealthy and dangerous. As individuals, we have all experienced confusion before we suddenly gain new insight. Communities can become disordered only to have more functional order emerge. For individuals and communities however, significant trauma can result in dangerous chaotic states where reorganisation is not possible.
- On Board Potential: For a system to realise a transformational outcome it must have integrated within it the organising principles necessary for that evolution. Many spiritual and cultural values such as morals and ethics serve this purpose for individuals and community.
- Accurate prediction is impossible: This is similar to causality being irreducibly complex. Tribal governments, economists, and the Bureau of Meteorology demonstrate difficulty in prediction regularly. With interactive transformational systems, unpredictable and sudden change can occur. At an individual level we cannot accurately predict our own behaviour let alone that of another.
- One part of the system can order itself differently from another part of the system: Social systems can be very differently organized to economic systems which may be very differently organized to military systems within the same society. For the individual, different parts of the body are organized differently for different functions. We also have differently organized aspects of personality for different roles in life.
- One system can entrain with another: This is something akin to harmonics. Through interaction directly or indirectly, a less powerful system can be influenced by another very different system so that it begins to process in the same way and demonstrate similar behaviours. Fashion, panic spreading without reason, politics, and the spread of corporate values to social values are all examples of this. For the individual, it is well known that stabilizing the breath in a comfortably slow and rhythmical pattern will bring stability to other physical and nonphysical body systems.
- They can exchange energy, information and material with their environment: All cultures exchange things, energy, and information within their environment and with other cultures. This can be as simple as lighting a fire or as complex as art, damming a river, and trade between regions. At an individual level you do this with every breath you take and every action you make.
- Change is inevitable and transformational systems cannot be returned to a previous state: Transformational systems are in interdependent relationships with a constantly changing and evolving universe. They are continually influenced by multiple effects and causes that cannot be controlled. For example, there have been many attempts to return various cultures to previous states that have failed. At an individual level, any experience will change you to some extent (and unless you can wind time back so you once again became that person without that experience), it is not possible to return to a previous state.
- Scale independence: This means that within transformational systems the same pattern can exist functionally across scale – from the micro to the macro. For example, there are patterns of behaviour in individuals that also exist at community level.
The implications of viewing ourselves and the world through a transformational lens takes time to unfold as a conceptual shift is required. As does the realisation of the incredible possibilities and opportunities it brings for a sustainable and just future. In future blogs I will expand on these concepts and relate them to how we can utilise natural systems for a better future.
Nonetheless this blog post illustrates where we are now in the world, and individually. The rise of the rational mind and the dominance of classical science has resulted in increasing instability. This is evident across scale from global systems such as political, financial, environmental down to smaller systems such as community, family, and individuals. The rapid rise of psychological issues in modern society is an indicator of the latter.
There is a great deal of alarm about increasing instability. Many feel helpless and desperation increases as more radical measures are employed in an attempt to return to stability. The solutions however can not come from the same type of thinking that has created them: ie the mechanical and material world view of classical science.
There is however great hope. The information provided above illustrates the outcomes available to us: From chaos to transformation. We are on the cusp of tremendous transformational opportunity globally and individually. The question is: “Do we have the organising principles within the world for this to occur?”
Clearly we do! The indigenous and ancient wisdom traditions have carried these across the ages through times of persecution and oppression. We are indebted to them indeed, and I for one, along with many others, am tremendously grateful and respectful of their journey as carriers of this wisdom.
Alongside this, we have the information coming from the new dynamical sciences. The integration of ancient knowledge with new information provides a way forward. Fundamentally this is to reconnect with Mother Earth and nature. It is to understand the powerful transformational process at work, learn to collaborate with them and each other, and step into our roles as co-creators.
If we are to do this, it helps a great deal to understand our collective and ancestral journey to this point in time. The rise of the rational mind, the disconnect from Mother Earth, the implications of this, exploration of personal power, and why this has been part of our evolutionary journey. The next blog post will be about this journey. In future blogs we will explore the integration of ancient knowledge with new information and the way forward it points to.