Autopoiesis as in the contextualist root metaphor | Mancing, Marston-William (2022)

Autopoiesis, as coined by Humberto Maturana, is in the contextualist root metaphor of Stephen C. Pepper, rather than the organismic root metaphor, say #HowardMancing and #JenniferMarstonWilliam @PurdueLibArts .

The reference to Pepper comes through Diane Gillespie, working in cognitive psychology.

In place of mechanism, Gillespie proposes the worldview Pepper calls contextualism. The root metaphor of contextualism, she notes, is the historical event:

  • For the contextualist, experience consists of total events that are rich in features… . Because the event takes up the knower in the known, contextualism is an interactive, dynamic worldview. Moreover, nothing in the event is permanent or immutable because each particular changes with the flux of time. The contextualist focuses on the richness of experience and on shared meanings that arise out of interaction with others. Truth lies in the process of taking up the whole context of the event … And so meaning is embodied in our experience of the world. (18)

In contrast to Gardner’s (1985) definition of cognitive science, with its emphasis on empirical methods and its strong cognitivist orientation, Gillespie defines the field as one which “poses fundamental questions about knowing and acting, about how we come to understand our experiences in the world” (1). [p. 283]

The philosophical orientation is clarified.

Contextualism is always explicitly situated in the real world and in the actual activities of living organisms; as Pepper indicates (1942, 141), it is closely associated with pragmatism. If cognitivism ignores or removes context to isolate mind from body and body from environment, a contextualist approach does exactly the opposite. contextualism always maintains a sense of the past, both the historical past and the past of an individual’s personal experiences. [pp. 283-284]

Referring to the inspiration for autopoiesis by Matarana, the contrast with an organismic root metaphor is described.

Pioneering proponents of our embodied reality were the neurobiologists Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela. Following up on their earlier collaborative work (1980; originally published in Spanish in 1973), the two collaborated on The Tree of Knowledge (1992), an introduction to the biology of understanding built around the concept of autopoiesis. Maturana has described how he coined the term that became central to his and Varela’s work:

  • It was in these circumstances that one day, while talking with a friend (José Bulmes) about an essay of his on Don Quixote de la Mancha, in which he analyzed Don Quixote’s dilemma of whether to follow the path of arms (praxis, action) or the path of letters (poiesis, creation, production), and his eventual choice of the path of praxis deferring any attempt at poiesis, I understood for the first time the power of the word “poiesis” and invented the word that we needed: autopoiesis. This was a word without a history, a word that could directly mean what takes place in the dynamics of the autonomy proper to living systems. (1980, xvii) [p. 285]

It is interesting that this Contextualist biologist finds inspiration in literature, something that no bona fide Cognitivist would consider doing.

For Maturana and Varela, the paradigmatic model of an autopoietic system is the living cell, which constantly makes and remakes itself in conjunction with its surroundings. In contrast to most traditional work in biology, Maturana and Varela contextualize the organism within its environment. The result of this contextualization, they propose, is the need for the autopoietic (i.e., self-organizing, or self-making) organism to “bring forth” its cognitive world; that is, to create its own pragmatic understanding of its relation to external reality. Thus cognition becomes self-defining action: “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing” (1992, 26); “to live is to know (living is effective action in existence as a living being)” (174). As we will see below, these ideas echo throughout the recent work of numerous contemporary biologists, psychologists, and philosophers. Further, the similarity between this concept of biology and Bakhtin’s contextualized, dialogic, emergent approach to language also becomes clear.

An animal, unlike a machine, is an “autopoietic system” in the sense that “it pulls itself up by its own bootstraps and becomes distinct from its environment through its own dynamics, in such a way that both things are inseparable” (46–47). This organism-environment inseparability comes about by means of a process Maturana and Varela call “structural coupling,” the result of “recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems” (75).1 For human beings, everything we do is part of “a world brought forth in coexistence with other people” (239). Maturana and Varela insist—completely obviating the validity of any subject-object, mind-body, self-other, or nature-nurture dualism—that knowledge is “enactive,” that “human cognition as effective action pertains to the biological domain, but it is always lived in a cultural tradition … for cognition is effective action; and as we know how we know, we bring forth ourselves” (244; see also Varela 1992). [p. 286]

Philosophically, autopoiesis in a contextualist root metaphor illustrates how an authentic systems approch is not reductive.


Mancing, Howard, and Jennifer Marston William. 2022. “Contextualism.” In Restoring the Human Context to Literary and Performance Studies: Voices in Everything, edited by Howard Mancing and Jennifer Marston William, 281–306. Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance. Cham: Springer International Publishing. .


#autopoiesis, #root-metaphor, #stephen-c-pepper, #world-hypotheses

Mastodon design decision on Quote Toots

Refugees from birdsite missing #QT #QuoteTweet might reflect on conscious design decisions made in Mastodon core, that could be modified in a specific instance. This means that if a poster REALLY wants QT, he or she has the option to move to an instance where that is supported.

Original 2018 Design Decision at

Pointer from discussion thread from 2000 on Quote Toots

Just because birdsite declares a unitary design approach doesn’t mean that Mastodon developers haven’t thought about a feature.

Another feature that has been requested almost since the start, and which I keep rejecting is quoting messages. Coming back to my disclaimer, of course it’s impossible to prevent people from sharing screenshots or linking to public resources, but quoting messages is immediately actionable. It makes it a lot easier for people to immediately engage with the quoted content… and it usually doesn’t lead to anything good. When people use quotes to reply to other people, conversations become performative power plays. “Heed, my followers, how I dunk on this fool!” When you use the reply function, your message is broadcast only to people who happen to follow you both. It means one person’s follower count doesn’t play a massive role in the conversation. A quote, on the other hand, very often invites the followers to join in on the conversation, and whoever has got more of them ends up having the upper hand and massively stressing out the other person.

Twitter forces you to choose between two extremes, a protected account and a fully public account. If you have a public account, all your tweets are visible to everyone and infinitely shareable. Mastodon realizes that it’s not something you might always want, though

Where retweets carry the veneer of an endorsement, a quote tweet can do so much more—particularly given that Twitter, in its infinite generosity, engineered the format so that the quoted tweet doesn’t count toward the character limit. The result is that you can go long above whatever you don’t like. But it’s often the short tweets that contribute the least.

… wrote #ClaireMcNear

A fork of Mastodon is Fedibird, with features more like Twitter.

The lead developer is @noellabo .

The Fedibird site looks to prefer Japanese writers.

If anyone knows of English language Fedibird instances, perhaps we could help others to find them.

Reposted from .

#mastodon, #twitter

Process philosophy | Gerald Midgley (2000)

Chapter 4 on “Process philosophy” follows after Chapter 3 on “The Systems Idea”. For context here’s an outline of the sections on the philosophy Chapter 3.

  • 3.1 The Meaning of ‘Systems Philosophy’
  • 3.2 The Boundary Concept
  • 3.3 The ‘Enemies’ of Systems Thinking: Mechanism, Reductionism and Subject/Object Dualism
  • 3.4 The Struggle against Subject/ Object Dualism
  • 3.5 General Systems Theory
    • 3.5.1 Critique of General Systems Theory
  • 3.6 The Theory of Mind
    • 3.6.1 Critique of the Theory of Mind
  • 3.7 The Theory of Autopoiesis
    • 3.7.1 Critique of the Theory of Autopoiesis
  • 3.8 Interpretive Systemology
    • 3.8.1 Critique of Interpretive Systemology
  • 3.9 Conclusion

Here’s the outline of Chapter 4.

  • 4.1 The Problem of Subject/Object Dualism
  • 4.2 The Linguistic Tum
  • 4.3 A Linguistic Tum in Systems Thinking
  • 4.4 The Theory of ‘Three Worlds’
  • 4.5 A Critique of the Linguistic Tum
  • 4.6 The Origins of Knowledge
  • 4.7 From Content to Process Philosophy
  • 4.8 Defining Knowledge
  • 4.9 Sentient Beings
    • 4.9.1 Shorthand Expressions of Boundary Judgements
  • 4.10 Second-Order Reflections on the Nature of the Self
  • 4.11 The Importance of Time
  • 4.12 The Indeterminacy of Process
  • 4.13 Some Consequences of Process Philosophy for Speaking about Reality
    • 4.13.1 Realism
    • 4.13.2 Idealism
    • 4.13.3 Social Constructionism
    • 4.13.4 What can be Said using Process Philosophy?
    • 4.13.5 From Realism to Process
    • 4.13.6 From Idealism to Process
    • 4.13.7 From Social Constructionism to Process
  • 4.14 Conclusion

My interest is in section 4.7, excerpted here.

4.7 From Content to Process Philosophy

If the common assumption of Bateson, von Bertalanffy and Maturana is the specification of a prime originator of knowledge, let us ask if there is anything other than a knowledge generating system that could be treated as analytically prime. My answer is that we can view as prime the process of bringing knowledge into being. Bateson, von Bertalanffy and Maturana all offer a content philosophy. They try to make some propositions (specify some content) about what the knowledge generating system must be like. In contrast, we can switch analytical primacy to the process of specifying that content.44

  • 44 Analytical primacy is not the same as ontological primacy. Something is analytically prime if it is advisable to look at it first, but this does not necessarily mean that it has a more fundamental reality.

Now, in saying this I should acknowledge that I am. using the term ‘process’ in a related, but subtly different, manner to others who have talked about ‘process philosophy’ (e.g., Bergson, 1911; Whitehead, 1929; Pols, 1967; Capek, 1971; Leclerc, 1972, 1986; Mathews, 1991; and Gare, 1996).

Tracing the origins of process philosophy, Gare (1996) cites the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus who says, “nothing is, everything is becoming” (p.310, my italics). However, as I understand it, 20th Century process philosophers do not assume that ‘nothing is’. Rather, they take as analytically prime those ‘objects’ (or systems) that provide the means of becoming. Thus, Gare aligns von Bertalanffy with process philosophy because, in general systems theory, the activities of open systems give rise to change: inputs are transformed into outputs, and properties of whole systems emerge. For von Bertalanffy (1968), open systems are therefore the means of becoming.

In contrast, I wish to avoid the identification of any one type of object or system as analytically prime — as I see it, a process should not be logically reliant en the prior identification of just one type of object or system, otherwise we have merely generated another content philosophy (albeit one which is slightly more sophisticated than content philosophies that disregard process altogether). It is for this reason tIiat I cannot accept von Bertalanffy as a process philosopher: he is primarily interested in specifying the nature of systems (i.e., content) giving rise to process. [p. 78, editorial paragraphing added]

So, for me, process philosophy involves identifying a process that is not dependent on the further identification of a single type of system giving rise to that process.

Fuenmayor (1991a,b) goes quite a long way towards such a position. As we saw in Chapter 3, he proposes a recursive form relating together the intentional subject and distinctions of its other (which also serve to delineate the subject). Essentially, making distinctions is process and the subject is content. So, while Fuenmayor takes a step toward process philosophy, he still hangs on to an aspect of content.

It seems to me that the subject has to be expressed as content because of the assumption that Fuenmayor inherits from Phenomenology that the starting point for building a philosophical position should be lived experience. From an experiential point of view, it would be inconceivable not to have a subject (or self) in a semi-pivotal position. Of course, when the self is placed in relation to its other to create a vision of epistemology, this generates the paradoxes expressed in Fuenmayor’s recursive forms (and indeed, these can be made even more paradoxical through the introduction of language, as we saw earlier in this chapter).

So, although Fuenmayor distances himself from the tendency of biological epistemologists to try to root everything in one prime originator of knowledge, there are still problems with his position (which I believe can be overcome) [p. 79, editorial paragraphing added].

In switching analytical primacy from content to process, the particular process I have in mind is making boundary judgements (which are similar to Fuenmayor’s distinctions).45 If we regard the process of making boundary judgements as analytically prime, rather than a particular kind of knowledge generating system, then subjects come to be defined in exactly the same way as objects — by a boundary judgement.

  • 45 See Chapter 3 for an introduction to the idea of boundary judgements, and Chapter 7 for a more detailed discussion.


Midgley, Gerald. 2000. “Process Philosophy.” In Systemic Intervention: Philosophy, Methodology, and Practice, 69–99. Contemporary Systems Thinking. Boston, MA: Springer US. .

Can we Use Energy Based Indicators to Characterize and Measure the Status of Ecosystems, Human, Disturbed and Natural? | 2001

Discovered a description of Eric D. Schneider and James J. Kay (1994), in a 2001 article written in the author’s style of Timothy F.H. Allen, for The Second Biennial International Workshop, Advances in Energy Studies, Exploring Supplies, Constraints, and Strategies, Porto Venere, Italy, 23-27 May 2000 .

Kay and Schneider take a recent interpretation of the second law of thermodynamics and extend it into nonequilibrium regions. For such nonequilibrium circumstances the second law is no longer just the simple statement that entropy increases or that processes are irreversible. Rather the thermodynamic principle is that as systems are moved away from equilibrium by externally applied gradients (temperature difference, pressure difference, etc.), they will utilize the means available to them to dissipate the applied gradients. Furthermore as the applied gradients increase, so does the system’s resistance to being moved away from equilibrium. Simply put, systems have a propensity to resist being moved from equilibrium and a have a tendency to return to the equilibrium state when moved from it. This is can be related to the development of interconnections in ecosystems, as they receive and process energy from the sun. Ulanowicz has developed a series of hypotheses about how these networks of interconnections develop over time.

Ecosystems can be viewed as the biotic, physical, and chemical components of nature acting together as nonequilibrium self-organizing dissipative systems . As ecosystems develop or mature they should develop more complex structures and processes with greater diversity, more cycling and more hierarchical levels all to abet exergy degradation. Species which survive in ecosystems are those that funnel energy into their own production and reproduction and contribute to autocatalytic processes which increase the total exergy degradation of the ecosystem. In short, ecosystems develop in a way which systematically increases their ability to degrade the incoming solar exergy [Kay and Schneider 1992; Kay 1984; Schneider and Kay 1994b; Schneider and Kay 1994b].

In the footnote of the first page of the article:

Written as an introduction to the Workshop panel session on “Energy and Environmental Constraints”, chaired by J.J. Kay (University of Waterloo. Canada). Panelists were: Tim Allen (University of Wisconsin, USA). Roydon Fraser (University of Waterloo, Canada), Jeffrey C. Luvall (NASA’s Global Hydrology and Climate Cenler, USA), and Robert E. Ulanowicz (University of Maryland, USA).


Kay, James, Timothy F. H. Allen, Roydon Fraser, Jeffrey Luvall, and Robert Ulanowicz. 2001. “Can We Use Energy Based Indicators to Characterize and Measure the Status of Ecosystems, Human, Disturbed and Natural?” In Advances in Energy Studies: Exploring Supplies, Constraints and Strategies, edited by S. Ulgiati, M.T. Brown, M. Giampietro, R.A. Herendeen, and K. Mayumi, 121–33. Padova: SGEditoriali. Accessed at

Schneider, E. D., and J. J. Kay. 1994. “Life as a Manifestation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.” Mathematical and Computer Modelling 19 (6): 25–48. .

Kay, James, Timothy F. H. Allen, Roydon Fraser, Jeffrey Luvall, and Robert Ulanowicz. 2001. “Can We Use Energy Based Indicators to Characterize and Measure the Status of Ecosystems, Human, Disturbed and Natural?” In Advances in Energy Studies: Exploring Supplies, Constraints and Strategies, edited by S. Ulgiati, M.T. Brown, M. Giampietro, R.A. Herendeen, and K. Mayumi, 121–33. Padova: SGEditoriali.

#entropy, #nonequilibrium, #second-law, #thermodynamics

The Aesthetics of Nature | Carlson and Berleant (2004)

Towards a non-anthropocentric view of aesthetics, we explore the legacy of work in the aesthetics of nature. The collection of essays in The Aesthetics of Natural Environments (2004), edited by Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant, illuminates some of the issues and debates on this perspective.

In the Acknowledgements for the 2004 book is a trail back to work published in 1998.

We especially thank the authors for agreeing to contribute their essays.

Moreover, we thank Philip Alperson, editor of The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, as well as the journal’s editorial board, for inviting us to edit a special issue of the journal (Volume 56, number 2, spring 1998) on environmental aesthetics. Several of the essays reprinted here first appeared in that special issue, the editing of which was our initial collaboration and eventually led to the publication of this volume [p. 9]

Philosophical works can develop slowly!

The Introduction chapter is a sequential exposition, working through the history, into prospects for research. The philosophy of aesthetics is not limited to works of art!

I. Introduction

The aesthetics of nature is the initiating and central focus of environmental aesthetics, one of the two or three major new fields of aesthetics to emerge in the second half of the twentieth century. Environmental aesthetics considers philosophical issues concerning the aesthetic appreciation of the world at large and, moreover, the world as constituted not simply by particular objects but also by larger units, such as landscapes, environments, and ecosystems. Thus the field extends beyond the confines of the artworld and our aesthetic appreciation of works of art. Its scope covers the aesthetic appreciation of non-artistic artifacts and natural objects, as well as the appreciation of both natural environments and our various human-influenced and human-created environments.1

This collection of essays, however, focuses on only that part of environmental aesthetics that considers the aesthetic appreciation of the natural world. It concerns philosophical issues about the appreciation of nature, addressing matters such as the exact nature of both the natural world and the modes of aesthetic appreciation appropriate for it. This renewed interest in the aesthetics of the natural world has developed only recently. Nonetheless, it has historical roots in earlier work on the aesthetics of nature. To fully appreciate the recent and contemporary research in this area, it is useful to briefly examine this historical background and the developments that follow from it.2 [p. 11]

There’s a companion volume on The Aesthetics Of Human Environments (2007), that “investigates philosophical and aesthetics issues that arise from our engagement with human environments ranging from rural landscapes to urban cityscapes”. For now, we’ll focus on natural, acknowledging the artifactual as separate.

This volume is oriented towards Western philosophies.

II. The Background to the Current Interest in the Aesthetics of Nature

The historical roots of the interest in the aesthetics of nature lie in the ideas concerning aesthetic appreciation developed in the eighteenth century by British and Scottish philosophers, such as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Burke, and Alison, and solidified by Kant.3 Central to this approach is the concept of disinterestedness.4 The basic idea of disinterestedness is that aesthetic appreciation requires appreciators to abstract themselves and the objects of their appreciation from their own interests, such as the personal, the possessive, and the economic. Coupling the concept of disinterestedness with the eighteenth century fascination with the natural world resulted in a rich tradition of landscape appreciation. With the aid of disinterestedness, not only could domesticated, rural countrysides be seen as beautiful, but even the wildest of natural environments could be appreciated as sublime. Moreover, between the two extremes of the beautiful and the sublime, disinterestedness made space for the emergence of an even more powerful mode of landscape appreciation, the picturesque.5 The picturesque mode, although initially tied to particular sorts of landscapes, ultimately developed so as to facilitate the aesthetic appreciation of other kinds of environments by means of focusing attention on the picture-like properties of sensuous surface and formal composition. The upshot was an eighteenth century aesthetic synthesis having disinterestedness as the central theoretical concept, landscapes as the paradigm objects of aesthetic appreciation, and formalistic, picturesque appreciation as the favored mode of appreciation. [pp. 11-12]
Although lacking the natural world as their main focus, the other key elements of the eighteenth century synthesis — disinterestedness and the formalistic mode of appreciation — nonetheless survive into the twentieth century. [p. 12]


The relevance of the early twentieth century re-entrenchment of disinterestedness and formalism to the current interest in the aesthetics of nature is to be found somewhat ironically, in the fact that a major theme of mid-twentieth century philosophical aesthetics involves the rejection of both disinterestedness and formalism. The rejection begins with the development of the expressionist theory of art and reaches its climax in the institutional theory of art.8 [pp. 12-13]


This paradigm shift results in a problem that directly impacts the development of the aesthetics of nature. The problem is that the new paradigm is a paradigm for the aesthetic appreciation of art. Moreover, it is a paradigm seemingly exclusive to art appreciation, for few, if any, of the resources introduced to replace those inherent in the doctrines of disinterestedness and formalism have application to the appreciation of anything other than art. This is no surprise, for the new paradigm is developed explicitly within the context of philosophy of art, and the rejected Bulloughian and Bellian reincarnations of the old doctrines were especially tailored to accommodate works of art. The upshot is that the resources of the new paradigm — designing intellects, art historical traditions, art critical practices, the artworld itself — appear to have little relevance to the world beyond the artworld. Thus, the aesthetic appreciation of the natural world is left behind, seeming to involve at best only distanced contemplation of sensuous and formal properties. [p. 13]

Hmmm …. “Disinterestedness” and a “formalistic, picturesque appreciation” doesn’t seem very compatible with 21st century thinking!

Moving forward in time, research into aesthetics hasn’t been oriented towards nature.

III. The Rise of the Renewed Interest in the Aesthetics of Nature

In the second half of the twentieth century, this problem finds expression in two developments that constitute the immediate background to the renewed interest in the aesthetics of nature.

The first is that, in developing and defending the new par- adigm of aesthetic appreciation, analytic aesthetics apparently abandons any remaining interest in the aesthetics of anything other than art. The abandonment is institutionalized by virtually equating philosophical aesthetics with philosophy of art. [p. 13, editorial paragraphing added]


The second development constituting the immediate background to the renewed interest in the aesthetics of nature involves the real world beyond both philosophical aesthetics and the artworld. It relates to the public awareness of the aesthetic quality and value of the natural environment that begins to evolve, especially in North America, early in the second half of the twentieth century. 13 This awareness causes a difficulty, since, given the developments in philosophical aesthetics, individuals concerned about the aesthetics of the natural environment are left with few theoretical resources other than the old neo-picturesque paradigm of distanced contemplation of scenic views. [p. 14]


The renewed interest in the aesthetics of nature is in part a response to these two developments. This is evident in the title of the essay that almost single-handedly initiates the renewal: Ronald Hepburn’s groundbreaking 1966 article, “Contemporary Aesthetics and the Neglect of Natural Beauty.”17 Reacting to the treatment of the appreciation of nature within analytic aesthetics, Hepburn argues that those features that other philosophers have seen as aesthetic deficiencies in the natural world and thus as reasons for deeming its appreciation subjective, superficial, and even non-aesthetic, are actually sources for a different kind of, and potentially very rich, aesthetic experience. He emphasize the fact that, since it is not constrained by things such as designing intellects, art historical traditions, and art critical practices, the natural world facilitates an open, engaging, and creative mode of appreciation. Moreover, he argues that, as in the appreciation of art, there is in the appreciation of nature a movement from shallow and trivial to deep, serious aesthetic experience, and thus the open, engaging, creative mode of appreciation should be guided by our realizations about the real nature of the natural world. [pp. 14-15]

Recognition of the overlooking of the asthetics of nature has spurred two directions: (i) a more cognitive, science-oriented approach; and (ii) a more culture-based approach.

IV. Recent and Contemporary Research in the Aesthetics of Nature

[….] The call to fill this [theoretical] vacuum results in two kinds of responses: on the one hand, attempts to provide sociobiological underpinnings for the aesthetic appreciation of nature, such as Appleton’s own prospect-refuge theory,20 and, on the other, a wide range of theoretical models of aesthetic response grounded in, for example, developmental and environmental psychology.21 In general, this kind of research is beyond the scope of this collection, but there are a number of overview articles concerning it 22 as well as some useful anthologies.23 [p. 15]


The former of the two initial developments stresses the role of the cognitive in the aesthetic appreciation of nature. This cognitive line, as noted, is in part a response to the old appreciative paradigm’s obsession with sensuous and formal properties. [….] [Analogous] to the way in which the appropriate aesthetic appreciation of art is cognitively informed by art history and art criticism, the appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature must be cognitively informed by natural history and scientific understanding. Thus Carlson finds a central place in the aesthetic appreciation of the natural world for the knowledge provided by sciences such as geology, biology, and ecology.26 [p. .16]

The second of the initial philosophical developments in the aesthetics of nature involves a reaction against the traditional concept of aesthetic appreciation as disinterested contemplation and an endorsement of the idea that the natural environment facilitates an open, engaging, and creative mode of appreciation. Consequently, it parallels some of the developments that helped to clear the ground for the new paradigm of art appreciation, primarily analytic aesthetics’ attack on both the Bulloughian and other more recent reincarnations of disinterestedness, such as the aesthetic attitude theory.29 [p. 17]

This leads to V. Directions for Future Research … which is what the rest of the book is about.


Carlson, Allen, and Arnold Berleant. 2004. “Introduction: The Aesthetics of Nature.” In The Aesthetics of Natural Environments, edited by Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant, 11–42. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

#aesthetics, #nature

Genealogy of Systems Thinking | Debora Hammond | 2002

In the history of science of systems thinking, Debora Hammond related the backgrounds and connections of the founder of the Society for General Systems Research, that is now the International Society for the Systems Sciences.

Boulding (1956) plays a large role in framing two orientations towards “general systems theory”.

Kenneth Boulding used to distinguish between what he called ‘special’ general systems theory and ‘general’ general systems theory, the first oriented primarily around mathematical modeling and the second incorporating a more philosophical consideration of the ethical dimensions of systems. From my own perspective there are three primary orientations within the systems community. Each of the original founders reflects one or more of these orientations, with slightly different emphasis.

(1) Theoretical/Rational—Formal Models, Quantitative Analysis
(2) Applied/Empirical/Utilitarian—Interdisciplinary Problem Solving
(3) Normative—Humanistic, Anti-mechanistic [p. 426]

These three orientations reflect the motivations of why individuals might be interested in diving into a science of systems.

While von Bertalanffy is considered the father of General Systems Theory, he was actually in an earlier generation of researchers (born 1901), before the founding of a society.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy is generally recognized as the father of general systems theory (GST). He introduced the idea of a general theory of systems in a seminar at the University of Chicago in 1939. He also contributed significantly to the development of organismic models in biology. His most important contribution to the field is the concept of the ‘open system’, which is capable of taking in energy and matter from its environment in order to create increasingly complex organizational structures, in apparent disregard of the second law of thermodynamics. Although Bertalanffy initially conceived GST in mathematical terms, emphasizing isomorphic relationships, much of his writing reflects a deeper concern with the mechanistic and reductionist orientation of then current models in biology and psychology. His concern with the unity of science may have evolved out of his participation in the Vienna Circle, although he rebelled against the dominant current of positivism in that group. The most significant influences in the evolution of his own thinking were philosophers and mystics, including Heraclitus, Nicholas of Cusa and Leibniz. [p. 426]

James Grier Miller was a convenor, becoming the editor for the journal Behavioral Science.

Although it also contained normative elements, the work of the Committee on the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Chicago, under the leadership of James Grier Miller, was probably closest in spirit to the articulated goals of the society. In additional to Miller, the two most active members of this group were Ralph Gerard and Anatol Rapoport. Although Miller was not at CASBS with the other founders, he continued to work closely with Gerard and Rapoport throughout that year. Miller had been inspired to integrate the biological, psychological and social dimensions of human behavior by Enrico Fermi and Alfred North Whitehead. As a student at Harvard he was very much influenced by the homeostatic models of Walter Cannon and Lawrence Henderson. As Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago he formed the Behavioral Science Committee in 1949. [p. 426]

Ralph Gerard (born 1900) preceded James Grier Miller (born 1916).

Born at the turn of the century, Ralph Gerard entered the University of Chicago as a student at the age of 14, later returning as a professor of neurophysiology. The range of his interests included ecology and social theory, and he spoke often on the role of scientists as the brain of the social organism. He was particularly influenced by Herbert Spencer’s organismic model of society and was one of the original participants in the Macy conferences on cybernetics in the early 1940s. The framework for Miller’s Living System model grew out of a much more simplified framework that Gerard developed to explore the relationship between different levels of organization in biological systems, examining structure, function and evolution at the level of the cell, the organism and society as a whole. [p. 436]

Anatol Rapoport (born 1911) was a University of Michigan (1955-1975) when Miller directed the Mental Health Research Institute there (1955-1967), subsequently moving to Toronto.

Although he worked closely with Miller and Gerard on the Behavioral Sciences Committee, Anatol Rapoport’s most significant contributions to the systems field grew out of his work with Nicholas Rashevsky and the Committee on Mathematical Biology, where he became interested in neural networks and game theory. Like Bertalanffy, he became increasingly concerned with the symbolic dimension and began to study semantics. Among the original founders he was the only socialist, and he split from Miller and Gerard over their respective views during the Vietnam War era. He continued to work with Boulding in the field of Peace Research and Conflict Resolution, which had grown out of their collaborative efforts at CASBS. [pp. 436-437]

Kenneth Boulding (born 1910) was at University of Michigan 1949-1967, and then moved on to Boulder, Colorado.

Boulding was the only member of the original group of founders who was not a biologist. By training he was an economist, although he was one of the first in that field to incorporate ecological considerations, drawing on Robert Park’s concept of ‘human ecology’. Beginning in 1949 he began organizing interdisciplinary seminars on a variety of themes, including competition and cooperation, a theory of the individual, growth, communication and conflict resolution. It was in this context that he was first introduced to Bertalanffy’s work and his proposal for a general theory of systems. Most significant from my perspective is Boulding’s emphasis on the importance of dialogue in the decision-making process

In contrast to what he described as the physiological orientation of Gerard and Miller, elaborating common processes at various levels of organization in living systems, Boulding was more interested in qualities and properties that emerged at increasingly higher levels of organization, illustrated in the following progression from simple to complex (Boulding, 1956): [p. 427]

The levels of organization from Boulding (1956) [(i) frameworks, (ii) clockworks, (iii) themostats, (iv) open systems, (v) plants, (vi) animals, (vii) humans, (viii) symbolic systems, (ix) social systems] should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t know them.

Boulding had the distinction of being accused of NOT being an economist, when he was president of the American Economic Association!

In seeking to understand the nature of social systems, Boulding emphasized the role of perception and values, which could only be elaborated through collaborative and inclusive decision-making processes, challenging efforts at problem solving by experts external to a system. [p. 427]

The generation of founders was marked with a series of passings: von Bertalanffy in 1972; Gerard in 1974; Boulding, in 1993; Miller, in 2002; Rapoport in 2007. Now in the 21st century, we’re in another (or maybe even a third) generation of systems scientists.

Tracing back earlier in Hammond (2002), we can see some of the origins predating the first generation of system scientists.

Hammon (2002), Table 4: Overlapping influences in the development of system ideas

For those who prefer to watch and listen than to read, there’s 2016 recording of a lecture by Debora Hammond on “An Overview of Systems Lineages and Implications for Research and Practice“, given a the ISSS meeting in Boulder, Colorado. (You’ll have to go to , because there’s no preview available cross-site!)


Boulding, Kenneth E. 1956. “General Systems Theory — The Skeleton of Science.” Management Science 2 (3): 197–208.

Hammond, Debora. 2002. “Exploring the genealogy of systems thinking.” Systems Research and Behavioral Science 19 (5): 429–39.

#general-systems-theory, #systems-thinking

Moral character in human systems (Geoffrey Vickers) | Adams, Catron, Cook (1995)

While Geoffrey Vickers and Gregory Bateson both worked with human systems, the background philosophies on ethics were different.

— begin paste —

Beginning with The Art of Judgment and culminating in 1983 with Human Systems Are Different, Vickers was concerned to avoid the narrowing of scope that had become a remarkably powerful force in both the theoretical and empirical study of organized human activity. His concept of appreciation was a pivotal element of this effort. Gregory Bateson (1972) also wished to keep the sense of “system” more open than was the norm. Yet while Vickers and Bateson admired one another’s work, they parted intellectual company on the origin and role of ethics.

  • For Bateson, since all systems are identical, morality enters, if at all, in systemic processes that would be found in all systems.
  • Vickers, by contrast, saw a moral character within human systems that distinguished them from both natural and man-made systems.

Vickers argued that appreciation is an inherent and essential part of human activity from the level of individual consciousness to that of human cultures. It was for him a way to achieve the broadening of scope that he felt to be essential both to a practical understanding of the world of action and to responsible action within that world. [p. xviii, editorial paragraphing added]


The exercise of appreciative judgment, the central theme in this book, has three components.

  • The first is the making of reality judgments: those judgments concerning what is or is not the case—ranging from basic cause-and-effect beliefs to more subtle and complex “facts.”
  • The second facet is the making of value judgments: those concerning what ought or ought not be the case—including imperatives, wants and desires, prudential or self-interested considerations, and individual and collective goals and norms.
  • The third is the making of instrumental judgments: those concerning the best means available to reduce the mismatch between is and ought—including the personal resources of time, attention, intellect, passion, money, and power, along with those social resources that can be marshaled and applied (by influence or command) through communication, coalition, and access to social institutions. [editorial paragraphing added]

Along with being a single activity composed of three interrelated but distinct forms of judgment, appreciation, Vickers argued, is always partly tacit. Human judgment, he insisted, cannot be fully described in explicit or analytic terms. But to hold that something is tacit, he maintained, is not to relinquish hope of describing or understanding it, nor does it relegate it to the realm of the mystical. The analytic and the appreciative, he maintained, are not conflicting but complementary, not dichotomous but dialectical. Vickers saw it as a regrettable prejudice of our times that those things that can be described explicitly are honored with the terms scientific and rational, while those that are not are often correspondingly deemed unscientific or irrational. In his interest in understanding the tacit and his insistence on treating it in its own right, Vickers clearly reflects his long personal and intellectual friendship with the philosopher Michael Polanyi (1958).

The incorporation of the epistemological and ethical along with the instrumental in the single activity of appreciation is a central feature of Vickers’s thought. The more economic and analytic treatments of judgment and decision making common in the social sciences provide a means of assessing only the instrumental (epistemological and ethical judgments are typically treated merely as “givens”). For Vickers, human action (as distinct from reaction, instinct, or reflex) inextricably entails all three forms of judgment; it is a product of judging what is, what ought to be, and what can be done to reduce the difference by selecting specific means from the set of possible actions at hand. [pp. xix-xx]

Kenneth Boulding, in his foreword to the 1983 edition of The Art of Judgment, concluded that Vickers’s concept of appreciation remained a more robust way to account for the exercise of human judgment and decision making than the “facile models of maximizing behavior in economics or rat and pigeon behaviorism in psychology” that were then still dominant. Now, in this centenary edition, we come to the same assessment yet again. [pp. xx]

— end paste —

With that new foreword, who were the authors? They were all professors, now retired.


Adams, Guy B., Bayard L. Catron, and Scott D.N. Cook. 1995. “Foreword to the Centenary Edition of The Art of Judgment.” In The Art of Judgment: A Study of Policy Making, by Geoffrey Vickers, Centenary Edition, xii–xxiv. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Protein remover tablets (RGP)

For wearers of RGP (Rigid Gas Permeable) contact lenses, protein remover tablets used to work better than enzymatic liquids. The tablets seem to be unavailable in Toronto (or online in Canada). The older hydrogen peroxide-based solutions not only have antimicrobial benefits, but also remove protein buildup.

Hydrogen peroxide lens care solutions kill microorganisms by producing free radicals that destroy cell membranes and essential cell components.11,12 This contrasts with MPS systems that use polyhexamethylene biguanide (PHMB), which acts on bacterial chromosomes12,13 or with alexidine and polyquaternium-1 (PQ), which interact with cell membranes and disrupt the membrane structure.12–14 Irrespective of mechanism, the disinfecting solutions must be capable of killing a broad range of microorganisms as prescribed by ISO and FDA standards.5,15 The disinfection tests are typically carried out against planktonic (floating in liquid) microorganisms, whereas it is known that, once adherent to a surface, bacteria will cover themselves with a protective biofilm that renders them more difficult to kill. Testing against bacterial and fungal biofilms showed that hydrogen peroxide disinfection performs better than a range of MPS

Gabriel, M. M., McAnally, C., Chen, H., Srinivasan, S., Manoj, V., & Garofalo, R. (2021). Hydrogen Peroxide Disinfecting Solution for Gas Permeable Contact Lenses: A Review of the Antimicrobial Efficacy, Compatibility, and Safety Performance of a One-Step Lens Care System. Clinical optometry13, 7–14.

There are multiple brands of hydrogen peroxide-based solutions available.

Hydrogen Peroxide Based Cleaners
These solutions use hydrogen peroxide as one or two-step cleansing options to both disinfect lenses, clean the surface of debris and build-up, and store overnight.  They both require 6 hours of cleaning time to fully disinfect the lenses.

Manicam, C., Perumal, N., Wasielica-Poslednik, J. et al. Proteomics Unravels the Regulatory Mechanisms in Human Tears Following Acute Renouncement of Contact Lens Use: A Comparison between Hard and Soft Lenses. Sci Rep 8, 11526 (2018).

#contact-lens, #protein-remover, #rgp

Book review of ZHANG, Zailin (2008) “Traditional Chinese Philosophy as the Philosophy of the Body” | Robin R. Wang | 2009

In this review of a philosophical work written in Chinese, a comparison is made between Chinese philosophy centering on the body, in comparison to Western philosopy centered on the mind. (I found a reference to this book, tracing back from Keekok Lee (2017) Chapter 9, footnote 8.

— begin excerpts —

The first part consists of four chapters, which illustrate how body plays a crucial role in four areas: cosmology, ethics, religion/spirituality, and history of Chinese philosophy. This part establishes two important claims:

  • (1) Chinese philosophy is a philosophy of body; and
  • (2) this philosophy of body reveals a pattern that provides a center for the basic structure of Chinese philosophy: body–gender–family/kinship.

This pattern is different from the more common pattern seen in Western philosophy: consciousness–concepts–universe. [p. 113, editorial paragraphing added]


Diving into this multi-layered book, one may find at least three important and valuable philosophical themes:

  • (1) Why is Chinese philosophy a philosophy of body? What is the textual and conceptual evidence for this claim?
  • (2) What are the characteristics of this body philosophy?
  • And (3) how does this understanding offer a space for the study of Chinese philosophy? [pp. 113-114, editorial paragraphing added]

First, Chinese philosophy is a philosophy of body. The author discusses three ways to support this statement. (1) Dao exists in body. This statement is selected from WANG Fuzhi and refers to the claim that Dao is manifested in one’s own body. Body is not simply physical flesh or a pure object of science. Body is a unity between subject and object, thinking and action, and oneself and the world. [….]

Body obviously falls into a gender field: the body is seen as either male or female. This necessity of gender naturally leads to a living force and generative process through intercourse. This interaction creates gan 感 (response, resonance). More importantly this gan will inevitably bring out qing 情 (feeling, emotion). Qing is the root of all Chinese literature. The focus on body also raises the vital issue of shi 時 (time, season, opportunity). Contrary to a thin notion of time, shi in Chinese philosophy contains five properties (16–19): shi is a presence; shi is a position; shi is a rhythm; shi is a synchronicity; shi is unity of subject and object.

(2) Ethical rules are derived from body. Body as the root of Chinese philosophy exhibits two features. One is that body is a starting point and a blueprint for cosmology. The other is that all ethical principles can be deduced from the body. Body is the manifestation and vessel of social and ethical rituals. Many ethical terms and views are embedded in the body. [….]

The ethical body starts in taking good care of the physical body. Respecting body also communicates the significance of bodily rituals. Bodily gestures, shapes, and forms are all indications of one’s ethical training. Ethical language is also a bodily language: how one moves the body, such as lifting the arms, taking steps, and even facial expressions all contain profound ethical meanings and must be cultivated. If body itself is action then action has to be trained according to rituals. There is a logical necessity that body and bodily movement is a sign of moral cultivation. Ritual without body is impossible. [p. 114]

(3) Transcendence, chaoyue 超越, is manifested in body. There is nothing which is independent, beyond, or outside the body. This provides a clue in grasping the meaning of shen (body) in Chinese as having the same sound as shen 神 (divine, spirit). [….]

Chinese spirituality promotes respect for body, yet at the same time it is all about becoming a sage.

To sum up, these three themes encapsulate the body in Chinese philosophy, in contrast to traditional Western philosophy, which takes consciousness as the basis.

  • First, Chinese philosophy, unlike western philosophy, which employs abstract conceptual notions to understand the world, uses the body as a starting point to reflect on and know the world. Rather than “I think therefore I am,” it is, “I bow therefore I am.”
  • Second, the body is gendered and exists in relationships.
  • Third, the body exists in time and history. [editorial paragraphing added]

Second, after the author establishes the body as the foundation of Chinese philosophy, from which cosmology, ethics, and spirituality are derived, the author attempts to discuss the characteristics of this body philosophy from four aspects:

  • (1) Body as family (jia 家). [….]
  • (2) Body as the Zhouyi’s genealogy. [….]
  • (3) Body as politics. [….]
  • (4) The embodiment of knowing. Chinese body philosophy demonstrates an embodiment of cognition with three features (170):
    • (a) Intuitive knowing that dissolves the dualistic distinction between subject and object, essence and phenomena, heaven and human beings. [….]
    • (b) Bodily knowing is also a correlative knowing. [….]
    • (c) Bodily knowing is a transformative act where language is functional and practical. [p. 115, editorial paragraphing added]


Third, the author constructs body philosophy in order to prompt a paradigm shift for studying Chinese philosophy. According to the author, the study of Chinese philosophy since 1949 has taken place under the shade of consciousness-centered Western philosophy. [….]


This is a very intriguing book. The interpretation of body offers many significant insights into Chinese philosophy, such as the claims about a gendered cosmology, ethics, and religion. The clearly defined structure also allows creativity for grasping Chinese philosophy. Body does offer a vital space through which to wander into the field of Chinese philosophy. This ingenious attempt to find a new way to interpret Chinese philosophy is a worthy effort. However, one wonders whether this new paradigm is a truly Chinese way or simply importing another new Western methodology, namely phenomenology, to impose upon Chinese thinkers/texts. It might yield more fruitful returns, but after all, it is still a Westernized interpretation.

— end excerpts —


Wang, Robin R. 2009. “Zhang, Zailin 張再林, Traditional Chinese Philosophy as the Philosophy of the Body 作爲身體哲學的中國古代哲學.” Dao 8 (1): 113–16. .


Approche systémique

The translation from English “systems thinking” to French “la pensée systémique” misses meaning.
“Approche systémique” cites “Conférences Macy“, “General System Theory (Bertalanffy)” and “Gregory Bateson“, suggesting a better lineage.

Also compatible with The Systems Approach and Its Enemies | C. West Churchman | 1979