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The Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show Podcast
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Fritjof Capra is one of the world's leading thinkers in systems theory, and the author of so many influential books such as The Tao of Physics, The Web of Life: The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living, Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks and
Review-- Fritjof Capra Pier Luigi Luisi-- The Systems View of Life
In a sense, this book feels like a Rosetta stone for me, unlocking connections and roots of a panoply of different ideas and concepts.
It starts by walking us through the history of science--and how scientific models influenced most aspects of cultures. This is a wonderful section that lays out the people who came up with the ideas, showing how models of science
Remember these are rough, incomplete interview notes.
Rob: First, please talk about Systems theory and how it
differs from the older, mechanistic, atomistic models of science. Let's start
so the listener has that under his/her belt
It's more a way of thinking--thinking in terms of patterns, connections and relationships. "in 1920s biology, ecology and psychology, were dealing with living systems and entities that could not be explained in terms of their constituents, so they coined the phrase "the whole is more than the sum of its parts.""
It's always thinking in terms of relationships. You discover relationships that you see repeatedly and that's what you call a pattern.
General systems theory, cybernetics, in 1940s
In 70s and 80s Non-linear dynamics--systems are highly non-linear
New language, popularly known as complexity theory was developed.
Rob: before, that we had the mechanistic, atomistic models of science.
There were pendulum swings between the holistic and mechanistic views.
Greeks had holistic view, except for Democritus
Scientific revolution--a decisive shift from wholistic to mechanistic
Rene' Descartes, Galileo, Isaac Newton. Dominated science for the next 300 years. Decisive shift has just happened in the last 30 years or so with new systems view of life--key idea is that living systems are networks.
Rob: an in the beginning of your book you point out that in Taoist thinking, even inanimate objects are considered to be living parts of the system of life.
Gaia theory, network of bacteria, plants and animals is a vast living system" that also contains rocks, minerals, water that are not living, but they participate in the " Gaia
Rob: You write: "the Cartesian view of the universe as a mechanical system provided a scientific sanction for the manipulation and exploitation of nature that became typical of modern civilization. " Can you discuss further how the Cartesian/Newtonian mechanistic approach to science has manifested culturally, as you do in your chapter on mechanistic Social thought?
Another key figure was Francis Bacon, promoted the empirical scientific method of science--not only said we need to observe nature, but that we also need to dominate it. It makes sense if you consider the world a machine you want to control it. If you have a car you want to control it. Control is an essential part of a mechanistic view. But that's not the case in the systemic view. " the mechanistic model was a tremendous
August comte first called sociology social physics.
Think of business organizations, still this Newtonian model of trying to design from the top, or re-engineering--a business org is owned by the shareholders, treated like an object that can be manipulated and exploited.
Rob: why did individualism become a dominant value 47
If you think of medieval society, think of a society dominated by the church, by nobility, where the individual really had very little to say" the individual's fate was thought to be determined by god and the social order.
Renaissance brought humanism which placed value on the individual which brought about individual consciousness. Individual emerged in the arts in the Renaissance.
Community was forgotten, particularly in America.
When we talk about individualism vs community, it's not a bad thing. It's just when it is exaggerated and gets out of balance.
Rob: When I think about extreme individualism I think of Ayn Rand and libertarianism. Can you talk about how mechanistic thinking is tied to these?
Seeing individuals as independent and separate" we are all embedded in ecosystems and society"
Rob: You write about the machine metaphor today, saying: "As a machine must be controlled by its operators to function according to their instructions, so the main thrust of management theory has been to achieve efficient operations through top-down control. " and go on to say "This largely unconscious embrace of the mechanistic approach to management has now become one of the main obstacles to organizational change. " then you add, ""transcending the mechanistic view of organizations will be as critical for the survival of human civilization as transcending the mechanistic conceptions of health, the economy or biotechnology.
I asked myself, can the Systems view of life be applied to organizations and how can it be applied? "Is an organization a living system or not. And the answer is yes or now. Every org has a dual nature"
Rob: You say that relationships and interconnections define properties. Where does that fit in? 72
There are properties of the whole that none of the parts have. My health arises from relationships between the parts of the body, my psychological outlook and how I interact in society. All this is a consequence of relationships. Another way of saying this" you can distinguish between quantities and qualities--system properties that arise from relationships are qualities. Quantities really give you information about the parts"
Rob: Can you walk us through your review of the evolution of economics, including the flaws of the Adam Smith and Keynsian models? Your thoughts on GDP? 55, 56 Can you talk about the evolution of economics?
H references Lester Brown--Plan B--systemic solutions and used it to create an interconnected map. The fundamental dilemma--illusion that unlimited growth is possible on this planet--an irrational belief in perpetual economic growth that is held by all our corporate politicians and economics--a clash between a linear way of projecting into the future and the non-linear nature of our ecosystem.
At center of the economy we have flows--casino finance--excessive consumption, a throw away economy. The key challenge is how to shift from unlimited growth to one that is sustainable and socially just.
Growth is an essential characteristic of all life. However growth in nature is not linear and unlimited. " this is what I have called qualitative growth, as opposed to quantitative growth. Most of what economists consider growth is waste. "We need to qualify growth to distinguish between good growth and bad growth. From an environmental view it is easy to see what is good growth and bad growth.
Rob: You write about the flaws in Keynesian economics.
John Maynard Keynes proposed that an economy could be fine-tuned by changing different parameters. -- the was the economy as a machine that can be re-engineered, fine-tuned and controlled. But then globalization came where we have" everything interconnected. Keynesian methods were based on control by the nations state. But nation states don't have control over global economy. Second big development is that corporations have become all powerful transcending the power of nations" and in this model the highest value is making money--more important than anything else" Global capitalism is designed without any ethical framework.
Rob: along these lines, can you talk about GDP
Gross Domestic Product is a parameter measuring products being sold without considering whether they are harmful or beneficial. The aim of unlimited growth is GDP growth which should grow without any limits. SO when there is an oil spill, with huge damage, it is good for GDP. " It's a really grotesque situation. We need to replace GDP with a different set of indicators, like health, happiness, equity, inclusion, the environment" and none of these can be aggregated into one single number.
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