You may have noticed a decided downturn in my posting rate and responses to comments of late. Balancing a day job (teaching computer science), a research agenda (general systems science, biophysical economics, and the neuropsychology of sapience), writing a textbook on systems science, and considering the fate of humanity and the Earth, has always been demanding. But lately it has gotten even more difficult. This is really good news, but it has kept me from doing much posting here.
A little background. As longer-time readers will be aware the core of my seemingly varied interests is systems science. It informs every other aspect of what I do and think. I have long argued that this is not only good for me it would be good for the world. My claim is that all sciences, indeed all human conceptualizations, are actually manifestations of systems thinking. This is the use of the principles of systemness to organize our understandings of how things (the world) works, but it has been largely implicit and subconscious. Systems science attempts to create a unified and integrated vision of what systemness is and how to explicitly apply these principles in the other sciences.
In the 1940s and 50s a number of polymaths recognized that there was this overarching aspect of understanding that led to fields such as general systems theory, cybernetics, information theory, dynamical systems theory, and so on. However, over the ensuing decades it has been difficult to unify the various perspectives because there was a tremendous amount of detail work to be done in each of these areas. University tenure depends on publishing lots of work in your chosen silo, so these fields tended to develop more deeply, but not in a real integrated fashion.
Today, however, there is a growing tendency in all of the sciences toward interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary integration as well as adopting systems perspectives. Newer inter-disciplines such as systems biology, systems ecology, systems chemistry, etc. have begun to produce substantial advances in understanding complex, dynamic 'systems'. The trend has been clear to me and several colleagues. We feel it is time to attempt a re-integration of the sub-topics under a grand umbrella of systems science. We are working on a textbook to explicate this approach and I have been writing in this blog (as a kind of preliminary draft of the ideas) on the subject.
In my understanding of systemness and the principles underlying it, I have been reasonably successful in navigating across disciplinary boundaries, both in terms of switching careers and in creating new intellectual spaces for exploration. I am confident that having a grounding in systems science is a key to better education even in light of the decline and fall of modern civilization as it proceeds apace. I see two values obtained from basing core education on systems science. First having the understanding of systemness helps one to see the holistic nature of the workings of the world. Young people, so equipped, should be better able to understand what is going wrong with the world and thus have a better grasp on what might be done to mitigate the predicament. Secondly, as civilization decays, our ability to maintain the investigations of the other sciences will also decay. Knowledge of systemness, however, does not depend on large budgets to keep the wheels rolling. Systems science is applicable to all aspects of living and will be of value even in a pre-industrial-style society in the future. This is why I am so intent on and supportive of permaculture - the application of systems thinking to sustainable living. I can see a time when computers become rare or non-existent, when my teaching students how to program them, and use them to solve problems, will become futile. But teaching systems science can have a different outcome and value to society. It does not depend completely on having some machines or laboratories.
In this light, I have been working on the development of a systems science curriculum along with its application in a near-term need for systems engineers. It is amazing to me how many large corporations have been realizing the need for systems integration and people who can design and engineer such complex systems. In any case my institute is now being asked to start developing curriculum along these lines and so I am asked to start producing outlines and proforma for what such a curriculum would look like. Hence my day job has expanded to include systems curriculum development!
The good news is that, at last, systems science, as a unified construct, appears to be on the brink of greater appreciation in the academic world. Since so much of what I already do is oriented in systems science, this means I can bring a number of threads together (consolidate previously disparate activities) and systematize my life! On the other hand, the amount of work needed to accomplish this looks to be substantial. I expect to be hunkered down for a while working on bringing the pieces together. Fittingly, this is a matter of systems engineering a systems science curriculum. I've dreamt of this possibility for a very long time.
I will try to keep up a regular, if not as frequent, posting here. In all likelihood they will be reports on progress more than anything else. I am still contemplating the issues of what constitutes a feasible pathway for high sapients to take to survive through the bottleneck. That includes considering the kind of narrative of meaning and purpose that is scientifically based, but has the same impact as religious narratives, that can be employed to enlist the average sapient population to assist the high sapients get on with surviving. Those thoughts are still rattling around in the subconscious somewhere and will possibly surface at some point. Recently a few glimmers have come into dim awareness.
But I wanted to explain to you why I have slowed down on the postings and why this pace may continue for a while. It is for a good purpose I think. Systems science is not only not dependent on a huge research budget, it is the kind of explicit knowledge that can be carried through the bottleneck by the higher sapients as a core that will preserve the essence of scientific thinking. It will be there to help re-unfold phenomenological science in some distant future when Homo eusapiens will be in a position to re-invent technological culture; at that time with more grace than we have managed.