Eclectic Spacewalk #3 - Object Oriented Ontology

A New Theory of Everything, Philosophy is more like Art than Science, and The Third Table

Read previous post #2 - Systems Thinking (25-30 minutes)


Table of Contents:

Object Oriented Ontology—

  • Look around you. Are all the objects you see experiencing existence?

  • What is OOO?

    • A “Theory of Everything” will NOT be scientific but philosophic.

    • Ontology is a branch of Philosophy that deals with ultimate questions of what reality and real things are or ‘the study of being.” Flat Ontology - Everything exists equally and nothing has special status.

    • Knowledge is just duo-mining, but NOT “reality.”

    • Undermining an object is breaking it down into parts.

    • Overmining an object is describing it’s effects.

    • Real world implications in knowledge, aesthetics, and even politics!

    • OOO in summary

  • Text (5 books)

  • Audio (5 podcast episodes)

  • Video (3 quick hits & 5 lecture/talks)

What’s Next?


Reading Time: 25-30 minutes (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.)

Object Oriented Ontology—

Abstract: Object Oriented Ontology or “OOO” is a branch of philosophy, also associated with speculative realism, that puts “things” at the center of it’s study. In addition, it states that an object is not it’s broken down bits or the all of it’s effects, but instead just an object in itself.

By now, the reader is most likely confused and we haven’t even begun. The two thoughts that the majority of people, when reading the title of Graham Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology, would most likely be: a “new theory of everything” is a bold claim & WTF is Ontology?

Well dear reader, after reading this post you are hopefully going to see and think of our present reality a bit different moving forward. You, like me, and like most everyone else since the beginning of our shared species’ quest for knowledge, have unconsciously, and then consciously, thought about our reality through a pair of blinders. You have been hoodwinking yourself and didn’t even know it!

Let’s do a fun little experiment. Look up from this post and take a gander of your current surroundings. Here is mine:

Now, according to Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) every “object” you see and every object in my picture has, or could have, THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE OF EXISTENCE.

Going back to my picture...

What does my computer want? What about my plant? And the book that this post is based on? Can the sand in my (half)hourglass explicitly want anything that lies outside of our own human-centric definition of consciousness? The same question to my yerba mate?

This is a little easier to gulp down and digest when you view the question(s) through an animal and/or artificial life prism. The scientific breakthroughs of today have given us a much better understanding of animal’s minds and - in a different area - given us machines bordering on “intelligence.” This has put heavy pressure on continuing to see reality ONLY through human experience.

Right now I can feel the breath from all of the pfffffs of exhales from the reader about to throw in the white towel of defeat in continuing to read. Don’t distress, and continue on. This isn’t some esoteric discipline for a small subset of people & situations. This is literally a theory of everything, so by definition includes everyone.

One of OOO biggest proponents, Ian Bogost, has this to say about how the movement could benefit greatly from regular people:

“I’m of the general belief that academia has a responsibility to the public interest, but more than any other philosophical movement in recent memory, OOO stands to benefit from the deep engagement of ordinary people, since it returns the attention of philosophy to the real, everyday world.”

A New Theory of Reality?

You may of heard in the past few decades of an unification of all scientific thought into one theory. There have been many attempts like string theory - which has its own experimental issues that would give Karl Popper an aneurysm - and also the below “Quantum Field Theory.”

“This is the amplitude to undergo a transition from one configuration to another in the path-integral formalism of quantum mechanics, within the framework of quantum field theory, with field content and dynamics described by general relativity (for gravity) and the Standard Model of particle physics (for everything else). The notations in red are just meant to be suggestive, don’t take them too seriously…No experiment ever done here on Earth has contradicted this model.” - Physicist Sean Carrol

Most notably however, is that this is NOT a complete “theory of everything.” Quantum Field Theory doesn’t account for dark matter, and has not been fully connected to the force of gravity.

Critically, the above theory or “any scientific theory of everything” will never be enough due to it’s marriage with the “real.” In other words, a theory of everything WOULD INCLUDE imaginary things.

If you disagree, then please just think about how much influence imaginary things like - religious entities, companies like the Dutch East India Trading company to Manchester United Football Club, and “energy” from astrological events millions & millions of years away - have on our discourse.

Graham Harman states that the difference between a real horse, an imaginary horse, and a unicorn is esssentially FORM. Unfortunately, that form is always “dark” to us in a sense and we can never “know” the true form because by expressing it we really change it’s form. There is no free lunch in the universe…

“The difference between a horse, an imaginary house and a unicorn is not that the former “inheres” in matter and the latter two do not. Instead, the difference is that the real horse has a different form from the imaginary horse, and certainly a different one from the unicorn. One of the implications of this is that we cannot ‘extract’ a form from a thing and express this form in mathematical or other directly knowable terms; or rather, we can do this, but only by paying the price of changing the form into something else.”

Metaphor plays a huge role in these distinctions as well. Aaron Lewis recently wrote a great piece on how we are still led, at least partly, by the metaphorical: Metaphors we believe by: the pantheon of 2019

“The more I learn, the more I suspect that rationalists only managed to kill a very narrow and anthropomorphic conception of God. People who study complex systems started using new words to talk about god-like phenomena — metaphors that are more palatable to secular minds. I believe these new words can help scientifically-minded people better understand what it actually felt like to believe in God before science became a Thing. Let’s take a tour through the pantheon of 2019 and explore what these seven “gods” might teach us in our era of ecological crisis and post-truth confusion.”

WTF is Ontology?

Getting back to those initial thoughts when you read OOO, what does the last “O” stand for?

Ontology is the philosophical study of existence, and an ontology of oriented objects puts “things” at it’s center. A flat ontology is: Everything exists equally and nothing has special status. For example - My PS4 controller, limestone, parchment, the country of Uzbekistan, and silver back gorillas all are unique in a very technical, Heidegger “thing it itself” way.

Ian Bogost explains how this is different than the current & dominant way of thinking:

“In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis), and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves.”

Knowledge, Effects, and the “Third Table”

Graham Harmon aptly calls the above scientific naturalism of bundling properties, undermining, and social relativism of their relations/effects on other things, overmining.

So, objects instead must be understood as real independent substances in their own right, with much larger & robust sensory qualities. Otherwise, objects lose their underlying identity as something real, and end up being mere appearances, analyzable in terms of something else which is more fundamental and real.

“Since knowledge cannot be metaphorical - for this is the realm of both aesthetics and phiosophia - it must be literal, which means that it must be a question of articulating the qualities or effects of an object in overmining/undermining fashion. And since knowledge cannot be ‘truth’, which would imply an impossible direct revelation of the world, it needs to have some sort of contact with reality, though not contact of a direct sort, which we have seen to be impossible. But unlike aesthetics, the point of knowledge is not to experience the unknowable uniqueness of a real object, but to attain some sort of partial grasp of the features of a sensual object that is already in our midst. This means that whereas aesthetics brought real objects into play, knowledge must somehow bring real qualities into the picture.”

Let’s do another quick thought experiment to get at the core of what an “object” is. Think back to the photo of my desk, or any table for that matter.

If you were to describe the table, you would inevitably have to use knowledge, which is really only two qualities: “what something is made of” (undermining or the first table) and “what it does” (overmining or the second table).

So what is left after you undermine/overmine a thing?

Graham Harman has another pithy response to this, “the third table.”

“An object is whatever cannot be reduced to either of the two basic knowledge: what something is made of, and what it does. Too many philosophers is the west have tried to claim that it is simply one of these, the other, or both. Another way of saying it is that OOO is strongly committed to an anti-realist view of objects, literalism being the notion that we can paraphrase an object, as if it were truly equivalent to a sum total of qualities or effects and nothing more.”

The Third Table is essentially describing the four possible combinations of “The Quadruple Object” as shown below. (Apologies for the semi-legible annotations.)

Implications

Well, for starters OOO has “rescued the non-relational core of every object, thus paving the way for an aesthetic conceptions of things.” In plain English that means that Aesthetics has become a first philosophy. Non literal access to an object is crucial in OOO. This has become an interesting new direction in the world of architecture.

Graham Harman says that if we were all Socratic, then we would recognize that idealism is poisonous and “reality” is the best antidote. No one knows the Truth!

“OOO, takes Socrates at his word. No one is actually in possession of knowledge or truth, which therefore cannot be our protection against the degeneration of politics or of anything else. As OOO sees it, the true danger to thought is not relativism but idealism, and hence the best remedy for what ails us is not the truth/knowledge pair but reality.”

But if we cannot possess knowledge or truth, then our models & theories about society & politics should have that understanding baked into them…Well they don’t do so now. Charlatans are abound everywhere, especially in politics, claiming to posess a truth that no one can know.

“There is no political knowledge. Political theory cannot be based on the claim to knowledge: whether it be the supposed knowledge of what the best polity is, or merely the cynical claim that it’s all just a struggle for power. Along with the need to recognize itself as non-knowledge, political theory must give a much larger role to non-human entities than has previously been the case.

Summary of Object Oriented Ontology

  1. All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non human, natural, cultural, real or fictional.

  2. Objects are not identical with their properties, but have a tense relationship with those properties, and this very tension is responsible for all of the change that occurs in the world. 

  3. Objects come in just two kinds: real objects exist whether or not they currently affect anything else, while sensual objects exist only in relation to some real object.

  4. Real objects cannot relate to one another directly, but only indirectly, by means of a sensual object.

  5. The properties of objects also come in just two kinds: again, real and sensual.

  6. These two kinds of objects and two kinds of qualities lead to four basic permutations, which OOO treats as the root of time and space, as well as two closely related terms known as essence or eidos.

  7. Finally, OOO holds that philosophy generally has a closer relationship with aesthetics than with mathematics or natural science.


Text:

1) Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything by Graham Harman

“We humans tend to believe that things are only real in as much as we perceive them, an idea reinforced by modern philosophy, which privileges us as special, radically different in kind from all other objects. But as Graham Harman, one of the theory's leading exponents, shows, Object-Oriented Ontology rejects the idea of human specialness: the world, he states, is clearly not the world as manifest to humans.”

Outline of OOO book:

“Chapter 1: Intro to notion of objects, only comes in two types: real & sensual, what OOO thinks is wrong with modern philosophy since Descartes and Kant. Kant is important ancestor of OOO.

Chapter 2: Explains why philosophy has less in common with science than is usually believed, and more common with the arts. Here we touch on the key cognitive role of metaphor, which the author claims is more important for philosophy than discursive propositional statements such as ‘the cat is on the mat,’ ‘gove is a yellow metal’ or ‘water boils at 100 degrees celsius’ which philosophers so often take as the model for their theories.”

Chapter 3: Discusses some of the implications for OOO in these fields. OOO agrees with Latour’s actor-theory network in politics, but not in matters of social theory. In social theory, OOO is more interested in the inner nature of things than in their actions, and contends that only a half-dozen or so important events befall an object before it reaches maturity, ripens, declines, and dies. In politics, OOO avoids the left/right polarization of political discourse since the French Revolution, focusing instead on difference between truth politics and power politics, both of them need replacement. It also adheres to discovery of actor-network theory that non-human entities play a crucial role in stabilizing the human polis.

Chapter 4: Author shows why the interaction between objects, which seems like the most obvious everyday thing in the word, is more paradoxical than it sounds. Incorrect assumptions on causality. Fourfold structure of objects, one of the methodological pillars of OOO. What is left of knowledge in the wake of OOO’s rejection of literalism and direct access to reality. Since Chapter 2, has already claimed that philosophy as more in common with the arts than the sciences, some might complain that OOO 'aestheticizes’ philosophy while leaving us skeptical as to the possibility of any actual knowledge. Yet we will see that OOO merely rejects the idea of knowledge as a direct presence of reality itself, and does not scorn knowledge per se.

Chapter 5: Author clarifies the nature of OOO further by distinguishing its treatment of objects from the views of perhaps the two most dominant french thinkers of the past half century: Derrida and Foucult, neither of them doing the degree of justice to objects that OOO itself demands.

Chapter 6: Discuses key authors that author has worked with: Ian Bogost, Levi R. Bryant, and Timothy Morton. Close proximity: Jane Bennett and Tristan Garcia. Architectural theorists: Mark Foster Gage, Erik Ghenoiu, David Ruy, and Tom Wiscombe.

Chapter 7: Concludes with a summary of some of the most important guiding maxims of the movement.”

2) Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence by Timothy Morton

“The logistics of agricultural society resulted in global warming and hardwired dangerous ideas about life-forms into the human mind. Dark ecology puts us in an uncanny position of radical self-knowledge, illuminating our place in the biosphere and our belonging to a species in a sense that is far less obvious than we like to think. Morton explores the logical foundations of the ecological crisis, which is suffused with the melancholy and negativity of coexistence yet evolving, as we explore its loop form, into something playful, anarchic, and comedic… Morton hopes to reestablish our ties to nonhuman beings and to help us rediscover the playfulness and joy that can brighten the dark, strange loop we traverse.”

PDF: https://www.academia.edu/38094905/Dark_Ecology_For_a_logic_of_future_and_coexistence_-_Timothy_Morton

3) Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing by Ian Bogost

“In Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing, Ian Bogost develops an object-oriented ontology that puts things at the center of being—a philosophy in which nothing exists any more or less than anything else, in which humans are elements but not the sole or even primary elements of philosophical interest. And unlike experimental phenomenology or the philosophy of technology, Bogost’s alien phenomenology takes for granted that all beings interact with and perceive one another. This experience, however, withdraws from human comprehension and becomes accessible only through a speculative philosophy based on metaphor.”

PDF: http://carbonfarm.us/555/bogost-ontography.pdf

4) The Democracy of Objects by Levi Bryant

“This ontology argues that being is composed entirely of objects, properties, and relations such that subjects themselves are a variant of objects. Drawing on the work of the systems theorists and cyberneticians, Bryant argues that objects are dynamic systems that relate to the world under conditions of operational closure. In this way, he is able to integrate the most vital discoveries of the anti-realists within a realist ontology that does justice to both the material and cultural.”

PDF: http://openhumanitiespress.org/books/download/Bryant_2011_Democracy-of-Objects.pdf

5) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett

“Bennett argues that political theory needs to do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in events. Toward that end, she theorizes a “vital materiality” that runs through and across bodies, both human and nonhuman. Bennett explores how political analyses of public events might change were we to acknowledge that agency always emerges as the effect of ad hoc configurations of human and nonhuman forces. She suggests that recognizing that agency is distributed this way, and is not solely the province of humans, might spur the cultivation of a more responsible, ecologically sound politics: a politics less devoted to blaming and condemning individuals than to discerning the web of forces affecting situations and events.”

PDF: http://criticaltheoryindex.org/assets/bennett%2C-jane_vibrant-matter.pdf


Audio:

1) Object Oriented Ontology, Jane Bennett, & Vibrant Matter by Always Already Podcast

2) Graham Harmon by CENHS

3) On Metaphysics, Objects and Decent Politics with Graham Harman by Thales’ Well

4) Objecthood #1 by RADIO WEB MACBA

5) Graham Harman's Object Lesson by Cultural Technologies


Video:Quick Hits:

1) Graham Harman - Object Oriented Ontology By Ben The Benevolent

2) What is Object-Oriented Ontology? By Tadas Vinokur

3) Graham Harman on Objects By Philosophy Overdose

Lectures/Talks:

1) Graham Harman on Heidegger & the Arts (Object Oriented Philosophy) - Philosophy Overdose

2) Graham Harman: Objects and the Arts - ICA

3) The Aesthetics of Equality: Object Orientated Ontology and Social TheoryYaleUniversity

4) Graham Harman and Slavoj Zizek: talk and debate: On Object Oriented Ontology - Lagebesprechungen

5) Object-Oriented Philosophy by Denison University Events


What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on: Zero Sum to Non-Zero Sum.

If you enjoyed this post, please share to other potential eclectic spacewalkers, consider subscribing or gift a subscription, or connect with us on social media to continue the conversation! Also, I am an advocate of Bitcoin. My address is on my About.Me page if you are feeling extra curious.

Twitter: @ESpacewalk

Minds: @EclecticSpacewalk

Website: www.EclecticSpacewalk.com

Thank You for your time. Until the next post, Ad Astra!

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Eclectic Spacewalk #2 - Systems Thinking

Summary of Systems Principles, 12 Places to Intervene, 15 Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems

Read previous post #1 - The “Overview Effect” (15-20min read)


Table of Contents:

Systems Thinking—

  • Summary of Systems Principles

  • 12 Places to Intervenes in a System (In increasing order of effectiveness)

  • 15 Guidelines for living in a world of systems

  • Text

  • Audio

  • Video

  • Websites & Groups

What’s Next?


Reading Time: 25-30 minutes (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.")

Systems Thinking—

Abstract: “The holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.”

I am a system, and a complex one at that. You are a complex system as well dear reader. I am going to pose a very straightforward & simple question: What else is a system? At the expense of sounding hyperbolic, my answer would be just about everything in this existence & reality. 

In this post, I will talk about Systems Thinking and hopefully by the end the reader will begin to see the world through a system’s principles lens moving forward. You see & interact with untold numbers of conscious & unconscious systems every single day. Your body is a system. Including your intestines, capillaries, and brain. Your cat’s too. The interstates are aptly called the “highway system.” Your country is a system, along with it’s culture. Any electronics are systems. The Dutch East India Trading company was a system. Government, Economics, Education are all systems. It is debatable if your laundry pile is a system. What do you think?

Two “thought” primers before we get into the material: Scale & Modeling.

Let’s start with scale. Where are my Men In Black fans at? If you haven’t seen the movie, there is a scene where the camera zooms out from NYC through the atmosphere, past outside of our solar system, then the Milky Way galaxy, to you seeing that our entire universe is a little marble for another creature/alien playing a game at a truly incomprehensible scale. 

Let’s begin with the biggest system we know of: The Universe. The system elements of the entire universe would obviously include the “observable” universe, but also includes the not so obvious “non-observable” universe (further than our telescopes can see). Also, to really wrap your head around systems thinking, be dumbfounded by the fact that our entire universe MAY be only a PART of an infinitely larger “Many Worlds Theory” Universe.

I bring this up to open your mind to the inevitable conclusion that there are different systems at almost every level of reality, all crisscrossing with different proportions & degrees of influence. Here is the best visualization of the scale of our universe. (Disclaimer: You might want to sit down if you aren’t already because it is quite mind boggling for our proto-conscious human brain to wrap our heads around, if at all, in any meaningful way.)

What is the smallest system we know of? Well just as the above, the answer has become more accurate over time. It used to be a cell. Then it was the atom. Then it was quarks, or subatomic particles that make up atoms. Now it is the Planck Length. But that may just be the threshold of our current knowledge and may change, or may not...

We have no idea how far it *really* goes in either direction of the spectrum, large scale universe size, or the small scale quantum level.

The second primer has to deal with Models, and almost all of which being mental models. I have to remind you that “everything we think we know about the world is a model.” This idea was brilliantly captured when Bryan Magee interviewed Noam Chomsky:

“Each one of us forms a systematically distorted view of the world because it's all built up on what accidentally happens to be the particular & really rather narrow experience of the individual who does it. Now do you think that something of that kind applies to man as a whole because of the reasons implicit in your theory? That is to say that the whole picture that mankind has formed of the cosmos of the universe of the world must be systematically distorted and what's more drastically limited by the nature of the particular apparatus for understanding that he happens to have.” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kmvVwtT4eI

Depending on your perspective this can be viewed as: less potential in pursuit of never attaining perfectionism in “our models fall far short of representing the real world fully,” or sheer awe in the ability to shape your/our environment in “our models do have a strong congruence with the world.”

Summary of System Principles

Almost all of the information discussed in this post comes from Donella M. Meadows magnum opus “Thinking In Systems: A Primer.” (We also pull from Daniel Kim’s pdf Introduction to Systems Thinking and other sources listed within the links). Both are exquisite in their deft explanation to the layman of what a system is, it’s behavior, and dare I say - a system’s view of Thinking in Systems. It has numerous illustrations and graphs to pair with the simple reading text. Words like stocks, flows, equilibrium, feedback loops are usual terms known to the casual reader, but the book goes deeper with resilience, self-organization, hierarchy, shifting dominance, delays, and oscillations with their examples. Not only does the author offer a thoughtful view of all the components of the system, but also states pithy responses to system traps with real world examples!

For the rest of the post, we will go through a summary of systems principles, places to intervene in a system (In increasing order of effectiveness), and finally we will end with guidelines for living in a world of systems.

We are specifically zeroing on systems thinking, “as in the holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system's constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The systems thinking approach contrasts with traditional analysis, which studies systems by breaking them down into their separate elements.” With biology, cybernetics, and ecology as its roots, systems thinking “provides a way of looking at how the world works that differs markedly from the traditional reductionistic, analytic view.”

Let’s remind the reader of some things as we continue on our system’s thinking journey.

  • A system is more than the sum of its parts.

  • Many of the interconnections in systems operate through the flow of information.

  • The least obvious part of the system, its function or purpose, is often the most crucial determinant of the system’s behavior.

  • System structure is the source of system behavior. System behavior reveals itself as a series of events over time.

The sources of system surprises (or challenges) come in many shapes, sizes, but in the end are always connected. Some are quite counter-intuitive actually.

  • Many relationships in systems are nonlinear.

  • There are no separate systems. The world is a continuum. Where to draw a boundary around a system depends on the purpose of the discussion.

  • At any given time, the input that is most important to a system is the one that is most limiting.

  • Any physical entity with multiple inputs and outputs is surrounded by layers of limits.

  • There always will be limits of growth.

  • A quantity growing exponentially toward a limit reaches that limit in a surprisingly short time.

  • Where there are long delays in feedback loops, some sort of foresight is essential.

  • The bounded rationality of each actor in a system may not lead to decisions that further the welfare of the system as a whole.

Places to Intervene in a System 

(In increasing order of effectiveness)

By now the reader should have a cursory knowledge of system principles. But how do you/we: “change the structure of the systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable?”

  • MIT’s Jay Forrester likes to say that the average manager can define the current problem very cogently: “identify the system structure that leads to the problem, and guess with great accuracy where to look for leverage points - places in the system where a small change could lead to a large shift in behavior.

    • LEVERAGE POINTS ARE POINTS OF POWER.

    • “The idea of leverage points is not unique to systems analysis - its embedded in legend: the silver bullet; the trim trab; the miracle cure; the secret passage; the magic password; the single hero who turns the tide of history; the nearly effortless way to cut through or leap over huge obstacles.”

    • “Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the WRONG DIRECTION.”

      • Forrester was asked by Club of Rome (to create world model) made a computer model and came out with a clear leverage point: GROWTH. “Not only population growth, but economic growth. Growth has costs as well as benefits, and we typically don’t count the costs - among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, and so on - the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth!”

        • “What is needed is much slower, very different kinds of growth, and in some cases no growth or negative growth.”

      • “The world’s leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to virtually all problems, but they’re pushing with all their might in the wrong direction.”

      • COUNTERINTUITIVE - that’s Forrester word to describe complex systems. Leverage points frequently are not intuitive.

In increasing order of effectiveness

12. Numbers: Constants and parameters such as subsidies, taxes, and standards

11. Buffers: The sizes of stabilizing stocks relative to their flows.

10. Stock-and-Flow Structures: Physical systems and their nodes of intersection

9. Delays: The lengths of time relative to the rates of system changes

8. Balancing Feedback Loops: The strength of the feedbacks relative to the impacts they are trying to correct.

7. Reinforcing Feedback Loops: The strength of the gain of driving loops

6. Information Flows: The structure of who does and does not have access to information

5. Rules: Incentives, punishments, constraints

4. Self-Organization: The power to add, change, or evolve system structure

3. Goals: The purpose of the system

2. Paradigms: The mind-set out of which the system - its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters - arises

1.Transcending Paradigms: No paradigm is “true.”

15 Guidelines for Living in a World of Systems

Cultural Thinking patterns, and thus you and each reader’s cultural & personal thinking, are the sum total of all human needs, strengths & weaknesses, and emotions externally manifesting as a “social system.” One might think that there could be some “end” of the road as complete understanding of a system, but a real system’s insight would continue to raise even more questions.

The curious among us have been at this crossroads for some time. When we started asking systems thinking inspired questions, we founded disciplines, libraries, histories, and other stores of knowledge to continue on our social quest of knowledge of ourselves & the environment.

  • “Systems thinking makes clear even to the most committed technocrat that getting along in this world of complex systems requires more than technocracy.”

  • “Self-organizing, non-linear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way.”

Living in a World of Systems through 15 Guidelines

  1. Get the beat of the system

    1. Observe before Thinking or Acting. Learn system history. “Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves...Learn its history.”

      1. “This guideline is deceptively simple. Until you make it a practice, your won’t believe how many wrong turns it helps you avoid. Starting with the behavior of the system forces forces you to focus on facts, not theories. It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others.”

        1. “Watching what really happens, instead of listening to people’s theories of what happens, can explode many careless causal hypotheses.”

      2. “Starting with the behavior of the system directs one’s thoughts to dynamic, not static, analysis… the history of several variables plotted together begins to suggest not only what elements are in the system, but how they might be interconnected.”

        1. “What's wrong?” Turns into “How did we get there? What other behavior modes are possible? If we don’t change direction, where are we going to end up?”

      3. “Discourages the common distracting tendency we all have to define a problem not by the system’s actual behavior, but by the lack of our favorite solution.”

        1. “Listen to any discussion and watch people leap to solutions, usually solutions in “predict, control, or impose your will” mode, without having paid any attention to what the system is doing and why it’s doing it.”

      4. If we want to affect change within a system especially, in today’s world we have to Decenter from Technology in general.

        1. “Nuanced historical context of the discrimination to which automated systems belongs will also add much needed texture to the abstract computational models. Without this, challenging technologically mediated discrimination risks insularity at a time when a just society demands greater interconnection and alignment between diverse epistemic communities.“

          1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2019.1593484#aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cudGFuZGZvbmxpbmUuY29tL2RvaS9wZGYvMTAuMTA4MC8xMzY5MTE4WC4yMDE5LjE1OTM0ODQ/bmVlZEFjY2Vzcz10cnVlQEBAMA==

  1. Expose your mental models to the light of day.

    1. Need to make assumptions visible and expressed with rigor.

      1. “We have to put every one of our assumptions about the system out where others (and we ourselves) can see them. Our models have to be complete, and they have to add up, and they have to be consistent. Our assumptions can no longer slide around (mental models are very slippery), assuming one thing for purposes of one discussion and something else contradictory for purposes of the next discussion.“

        1. (Evangelical Christians preaches pro-life message for abortions, but not for death row inmates.)

    2. Your mental model doesn’t have to be diagrams and equations, even though doing so is good practice.

      1. “Words, lists, pictures or arrows showing how things are connects to what. The more you do that, in any form, the clearer your thinking will become, the faster you will admit your uncertainties, and correct your mistakes, and the more flexible you will learn to be.”

        1. “Mental flexibility - the willingness to redraw boundaries, to notice that a system has shifted into a new mode, to see how to redesign structure - is a necessity when you live in a world with flexible systems.”

    3. “Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model.”

      1. “Instead of becoming a champion for one possible explanation or hypothesis or model, collect as many as possible. Consider all of them to be plausible until you find some evidence that cause you to rule one out. That way you will be emotionally able to see the evidence that rules out an assumption that may become entangled with your own identity.”

    4. Scientific method

      1. “Getting models out into the light of day, making them as rigorous as possible, testing them against the evidence, and willing to scuttle them if they are longer supported is nothing more than practicing the scientific method - something that is done too seldom in science, and is done hardly at all in social science or management or government or everyday life.”

  2. Honor, respect, and distribute information.

    1. “Information holds systems together and how delayed, biased, scattered, or missing information can make feedback loops malfunction.”

      1. “Decision makers can’t respond to information they don’t have, can't respond accurately to information that is inaccurate, and can’t respond in a timely way to information that is late.”

      2. “I would guess that most of what goes wrong in systems goes wrong because of biased, late, or missing information.”

      3. Releasing previously withheld information

        1. Toxic Release Inventory legislation of 1986 - required companies to report all hazardous air pollutants emitted from their factories each year. Because of that and FOIA, the first data became available to the public. No Lawsuits, no required reductions, no fines, no penalties.

        2. Within two years, emission had decreased 40 percent.

    2. Information is power.

      1. “Anyone interested in power grasps that idea very quickly. The media, the public relations people, the politicians, and advertisers who regulate much of the public flow of information have far more power than most people realize. THEY FILTER AND CHANNEL INFORMATION. Often they do so for short-term, self-interested purposes. It’s no wonder that our social system so often run amok.”

  3. Use language with care and enrich it with systems concepts.

    1. “Our information streams are composed primarily of language. Our mental models are mostly verbal.”

      1. Fred Kofman wrote of language in a systems journal: “Language can serve as a medium through which we create new understandings and new realities as we begin to talk about them. In fact, we don’t talk about what we see; we see only what we can talk about. Our perspectives on the world depend on the interaction of our nervous system and our language - both act as filters through which we perceive our world...The language and information systems of an organization are not an objective means of describing an outside reality - they fundamentally structure the perception and actions of its members. To reshape the measurement and communication systems of a society is to reshape all potential interactions at the most fundamental level. Language...as articulation of reality is more primordial than strategy, structure, or...culture.”

      2. “If society talks incessantly about productivity but don’t understand the word resilience or its use then the society will be productive and not resilient. If we don’t understand carrying capacity then we will exceed our carrying capacity. “Creating jobs” from companies takes away inspiration to create jobs for themselves than anyone else.”

      3. A society that talk about a “peacekeeper” missile or “collateral damage,” a “final solution” or “ethnic cleansing” is speaking tyrannese.

        1. Wendell Berry says: “My impression is that we have seen, for perhaps a hundred and fifty years, a gradual increase in language that is either meaningless or destructive of meaning. And I believe that this increasing unreliability of language parallels the increasing disintegration, over the same period, of persons and communities....In this degenerative accounting, language is almost without the power of designation, because it is used conscientiously to refer to nothing in particular. Attention rests upon percentages, categories, abstract functions ...It is not language that the user will very likely be required to stand by or to act on, for it does not define any personal ground for standing or acting. It's only practical utility is to support with “expert opinion” a vast, impersonal technological action already begun. It is a tyrannical language: tyrannese.

    2. Honoring language means above all avoiding language pollution - making the cleanest possible use we can of language. 

      1. “The first step in respecting language is keeping it as concrete, meaningful, and truthful as possible - part of the job of keeping information streams clear.”

    3. Second, it means expanding our language so we can talk about complexity.

      1. Word process spell check didn’t have words like: feedback, through-put, overshoot, self-organization, and sustainability. (In 2008’)

  4. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

    1. “Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure.”

      1. Quantity > Quality

    2. “Pretending that something doesn’t exist if it’s hard to quantify leads to faulty models. You already saw the system trap that comes from setting goals around what is easily measured that than around what is important.”

      1. Human beings can count, but also have the ability to access quality. So, be a quality detector!!!

    3. “If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanely demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist.”

  5. Make feedback policies for feedback systems.

    1. “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated.” ~ John E. Jones

    2. “A dynamic, self-adjusting feedback system cannot be governed by a static, unbending policy. It’s easier, more effective, and usually much cheaper to design policies that change depending on the state of the system.”

      1. “Especially where there are great uncertainties, the best policies not only contain feedback loops, but meta-feedback loops - loops that alter, correct, and expand loops.”

        1. Jimmy Carter tried twice and failed to institute feedback policies. Neither happened.

          1. Tax on gasoline proportional to the fraction of US oil consumption that had to be imported.

          2. Instead of spending money on border guards and security, we should help build the Mexican economy, and do so until the immigration problem stopped

      2. “These are policies that design learning into the management process.”

        1. Montreal protocol is an example. Signed in 1987, no certainty about danger, rate at degrading, or specific effect of chemicals. Set rates obviously, BUT ALSO required monitoring the situation and reconvening an international congress to change the phase out schedule if needed. Three years later, they sped things up since the initial damage was greater than first thought. A structured for learning feedback policy.

  6. Go for the good of the whole.

    1. “Remember that hierarchies exist to serve the bottom layers, not the top. Don’t maximize parts of the systems or subsystems while ignoring the whole. Don’t, as Kenneth Boulding once said, go to great trouble to optimize something that never should be done at all. Aim to enhance total systems properties, such as growth, stability, diversity, resilience, and sustainability - whether they are easily measured or not.”

      1. INVERT THE PYRAMID

  7. Listen to the wisdom of the system.

    1. Aid and encourage the forces and structures that help the system run itself. Many of which are at the bottom of the hierarchy.

      1. “Before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there.”

      2. Aid agencies arrive and want to “create jobs,” and “attract outside investors,” and “increasing entrepreneurial spirit.”

        1. All while walking right past thriving city centers, markets, and small scale business who were literally doing everything above.

        2. So no outside investors, but inside ones. “Small loans available at reasonable interest rates, and classes in literacy and accounting, would produce much more long term good for the community than bringing in a factory or assembly plan from outside.”

  8. Locate responsibility within the system. (Skin in the Game ‘esque)

    1. Guideline both for analysis & design.

      1. Analysis - What are the way the system creates its own behavior. Paying attention to triggering events or outside forces that bring about one kind of behavior from the system rather than another.

        1. “Intrinsic Responsibility means that the system is designed to send feedback about the consequences of decision making directly and quickly and compellingly to the decision makers. 

          1. Pilot rides in front of the plane, so they will experience directly the consequences of their actions.

          2. Temperature control decisions to central computer to save money, created other problems of over correcting and headaches to deal with.

            1. More than one option, but professors could of still been responsible for the temperature but charge them directly for the amount of energy they use.

          3. Watch the borneo cats feedback loop story below in the Videos section.

      2. Design - Our current culture doesn’t look for responsibility within the system that generates an action, and how poorly we design systems to experience the consequences of their actions.

        1. Lost when rulers who declared war were no longer leading troops in battle. Even more so with drone strikes and distance between action and its consequences.

        2. “Garrett Hardin has suggested that people who want to prevent other people from having an abortion are not practicing intrinsic responsibility, unless they are personally willing to bring up the resulting child.”

  9. Stay humble - stay a learner.

    1. Constantly reminded, as we should be, of how incomplete my/your/our mental models are, how complex the world is, and how much I/you/we don’t know.

      1. Learning is the only way. The way you learn is experiment. Buckminster Fuller put it: “by trial and error, error, error.”

    2. “Stay the course” is only a good idea if you’re sure you’re on course!

    3. “It’s hard. It means making mistakes and, worse admitting them. It takes a lot of courage to embrace your errors.”

      1. Psychologist Don Michael calls this “error-embracing.”

        1. “Distrust of institutions and authority figures is increasing. The very act of acknowledging uncertainty could help greatly to reverse this worsening trend.”

        2. “Error-embracing is the condition for learning. It means seeking and using - and sharing - information about what went wrong with what you expected or hoped would go right. Both error embracing and living with high levels of uncertainty emphasize our personal as well as societal vulnerability. Typically we hide our vulnerabilities from ourselves as well as from others. But...to be the kind of person who truly accepts his responsibility...requires knowledge of and access to self far beyond that possessed by most people in this society.”

  10. Celebrate complexity.

    1. The reality is the universe is messy, non linear, turbulent, dynamic, self-organizing, every evolving, creating diversity AND uniformity. This paradox makes the world interesting and beautiful.

    2. Humans also have a paradox to deal with themselves. The mind is “attracted to straight lines and not curves, to whole numbers and not fractions, to uniformity and not diversity, and to certainties and not mystery.” BUT we also have an opposite set of attraction constantly pulling at this apparent innateness but us being the product of complex feedback systems.

    3. Should celebrate and encourage self-organization, disorder, variety, and diversity.

      1. Aldo Leopold, made a moral code out of it: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

  11. Expand time horizons.

    1. The longer the operant time horizon, the better the chances for survival.

    2. Interest rates are in the hall of fame of humanity’s worst ideas. A rational, quantitative excuse for ignoring the long term.

    3. “In a strict systems sens, there is no long-term, short term distinction. Phenomena at different time-scales are nested within each other...Systems are always coupling and uncoupling the large and the small, the fast and the slow. ...You need to be watching both the short and the long term - the whole system.”

  12. Defy disciplines.

    1. Following the system anywhere it leads will be sure to lead you across traditional disciplinary lines. You will have to learn from the discipline, see through their honest lens but discard the distortions from their horse blinders. 

      1. “Interdisciplinary communication works only if there is a real problem to be solved, and if the representatives from the various disciplines are more committed to solving the problem than to being academically correct. They will have to go into learning mode. They will have to admit ignorance and be willing to be taught, by each other and by the system. It can be done. It’s very exciting when it happens.”

  13. Expand the boundary of caring.

    1. If moral arguments are not sufficient in rigor for you then systems thinking has pragmatic reasons to back up morals.

      1. “The real system is interconnected. No part of the human race is separate either from human beings or from the global ecosystem”

  14. Don’t erode the goal of goodness.

    1. Modern industrial culture has eroded the goal of morality. Bad human behavior is held up as typical and basically glorified by media and culture, this is expectation since we are human. There are far more numerous examples of “goodness,” but they are exceptions of saintly behavior and can't expect everyone to do that.

      1. Literary critic & naturalist puts it this way: “Thus though man has never before been so complacent about what he has, or so confident of his ability to do whatever he sets his mind upon, it is at the same time true that he never before accepted so low an estimate of what he is. That same scientific method which enabled him to create his wealth and to unleash the power he wields has, he believes, enabled biology and psychology to explain him away - or at least to explain away whatever used to seem unique or even in any way mysterious...Truly he is, for all his wealth and power, poor in spirit.”

    2. “System thinking can only tell us to do that. It can’t do it. We’re back to the gap understanding and implementation. Systems thinking by itself cannot bridge that gap, but it can lead us to the edge of what analysis can do and then point beyond - to what can and must be done by the human spirit.”

Onward to the future with a systems thinking worldview!

The future cannot be predicted, but it can be envisioned with foresight, critical thinking, and a holistic approach to any mental model. All we can do is have a commitment to learning, designing, and the most important part - redesigning with the knowledge & expertise of the previous design history. The world is full of surprises, and we have to learn from each and every one!

  • “We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them!”

  • “Stay wide awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback.”

  • “Living successfully in a world of system requires more of us, than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity - our rationality, our ability to sort truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.”


Text:

1) Thinking in Systems: A Primer

“Some of the biggest problems facing the world—war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation—are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking…

In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.”

2) Introduction to Systems Thinking

“It’s been said that systems thinking is one of the key management competencies for the 21st century. As our world becomes ever more tightly interwoven globally and as the pace of change continues to increase, we will all need to become increasingly “system-wise.” This volume gives you the language and tools you need to start applying systems thinking principles and practices in your own organization.”

3) Top 15 books on Systems Thinking by DZone

“I created this list by finding suggestions on Systems Thinking groups (here, here and here), and some intensive searches on Amazon. The results are ranked by a combination of rating and popularity, both on Amazon and GoodReads. (For example, Peter M. Senge’s book is the most popular, but Donella Meadows book has better ratings both on Amazon and on GoodReads, which is why her book won the top slot.)”

4) A Systems Story key concepts PDF


Audio:

1) Systems Thinking for Social Change

“In this interview, Mr. Stroh offers practical advice on how systems thinking can, to echo his book’s subtitle, solve complex problems, avoid unintended consequences, and achieve lasting results. Listen to the full conversation on the player below, and/or scroll down to read a transcript provided by the Business of Giving.”

2) An Educator's Guide to Systems Thinking

“In this episode, Angie talks with systems educator and award-winning author, Linda Booth Sweeney. Booth Sweeney describes her work as a systems educator and explains why understanding systems is so important. She shares many wonderful examples and stories of patterns (and feedback loops) that show up in everyday life and explains how seeing a pattern is the very first step toward influencing change. Booth Sweeney also talks about her books and why storytelling is such an instrumental tool in her work.”

3) Systems Thinking Podcasts from PlayerFM

“Best Systems Thinking podcasts we could find (Updated July 2019)”


Video:

1 - Systems Thinking

“A short video explaining the primary differences between analytical methods of reasoning and systems thinking while also discussing the two methods that underpin them; synthesis and reductionism.” - Systems Academy

2) Systems thinking: a cautionary tale (cats in Borneo)

“This video about systems thinking tells the story of "Operation Cat Drop" that occurred in Borneo in the 1950's. It is a reminder that when solutions are implemented without a systems perspective they often create new problems.”

3) Systems-thinking: A Little Film About a Big Idea

“Our Mission-Vision is to Engage, Educate, and Empower 7 Billion Systems Thinkers to solve everyday and wicked problems.”- Cabrera Research Lab

4) TEDxDirigo - Eli Stefanski - Making Systems Thinking Sexy

“Elizabeth Stefanski is an impatient social innovation junkie with over a decade of experience in building and leading social ventures. She recently joined the Business Innovation Factory as chief market maker, where she is attracting capital and building partnerships to generate new models for transforming complex social systems. Stefanski also serves as advisor and gender-centric design expert to Bazaar Strategies, rolling out emerging market innovations in mobile technology.” - TEDx

5) Systems Thinking in a Digital World - Peter Senge

“Peter Senge explores how we have shifted in to a new generation of systems thinking. He asks us to think about how we use technology and how that technology influences, for better and worse, the ways we communicate and connect.” - Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education

Additional Videos:

Into from the master Donella Meadows: In a World of Systems

Intro MIT course overview: Introduction to System Dynamics

Applying Systems Thinking by the Center for Disease Control: The Value of Systems Thinking

A Systems Story - Systems Thinking

Critique of Systems Thinking: I used to be a systems thinker

Organizational Systems Thinking: Systems Theory of Organizations

Maximize Program Effectiveness: Systems Thinking


Websites & Groups:

1) Systems Thinking, Systems Tools and Chaos Theory

“Three of the biggest breakthroughs in how we understand and successfully guide changes in ourselves, others and organizations are systems theory, systems thinking and systems tools. To understand how they are used, we first must understand the concept of a system. Many of us have an intuitive understanding of the concept. However, we need to make that intuition even more explicit in order to use systems thinking and systems tools.”

2) The Systems Thinker

“With the launch of thesystemsthinker.com, we hope to drive much broader adoption of this insightful material. Our intention is for the site to be an archive of already published material. At this time, we’re not planning on publishing new material.”

3) The Donella Meadows Project: Academy for Systems Change

“The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

4) Waters Center for Systems Thinking

“The Waters Center for Systems Thinking is an internationally recognized leader in system thinking capacity building. We are dedicated to providing the tools and methods that help people understand, track, and leverage the connections that affect their personal and professional goals.”


What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), specifically the book by the same name written by Graham Harmon.

If you enjoyed this post, please share to other potential eclectic spacewalkers, consider subscribing or gift a subscription, or connect with us on social media to continue the conversation! Also, I am an advocate of Bitcoin. My address is on my About.Me page if you are feeling extra curious.

Twitter: @ESpacewalk

Minds: @EclecticSpacewalk

Website: www.EclecticSpacewalk.com

Thank You for your time. Until the next post, Ad Astra!


Eclectic Spacewalk #1 - The "Overview Effect"

The pyschological effect of seeing the Earth from Space. Four Pillars: The Void, Fragile Atmosphere, No Borders, & a Unified Planetary Protection Society

Read previous post #0 - Hello World! (10-15 min read)


Table of Contents:

The “Overview Effect”—

  • Four Pillars (The Void, Fragile Atmosphere, No Borders, & a Unified Planetary Protection Society)

  • Putting the OE four pillars & morality together

  • Text

  • Audio

  • Video

  • Websites & Groups

What’s Next?


Reading Time: 15-20 minutes

The “Overview Effect”—

Abstract: The overview effect is a cognitive shift experienced by astronauts while seeing Earth from outer space.

Lets start with a quote from Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space & the first man to orbit the Earth, both in 1961.

"What beauty. I saw clouds and their light shadows on the distant dear earth...The water looked like darkish, slightly gleaming spots... When I watched the horizon, I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky. I enjoyed the rich color spectrum of the earth. It is surrounded by a light blue aureole that gradually darkens, becoming turquoise, dark blue, violet, and finally coal black."

The line, “I saw the abrupt, contrasting transition from the earth's light-colored surface to the absolutely black sky…” jumps out to me from the cosmonaut as one of the first truths that any human has “discovered or experiences from space.” There had been previous satellite launches with camera equipment into space (like the ones below), but Gagarin going into space was grade-A information from a primary human source - and literally from out of this world.

After Gagarin’s 108 minute orbit of Earth, the Human Spaceflight Age had officially begun. Within 5 years we were able to upgrade our first picture of Earth from space (the one above), to the first picture of Earth from the Moon (the one below).

When Micheal Collins (that Micheal Collins who stayed in the Command Module as Neil & Buzz were the first humans to step on the moon) saw the Earth floating in infinity he immediately linked the perspective with the possibility of a fundamental mass psychological change. He mentions that all other humans, and especially political leaders, are cursed by the availability heuristic of not knowing what the Earth looks like from space, or outside the membrane, or “god mode.”

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let's say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed. The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not envious or envied.”

Gagarin & Collins sum up the enormity and sheer grandeur of our home planet in hinting at what has been called the “Overview Effect.” The term was coined in 1987 by space writer, Frank White, in his book called “The Overview Effect - Space Exploration and Human Evolution.” Basically it is a shift of awareness that happens when an Astronaut looks at Earth from outer space. Wikipedia puts it as such:

“It is the experience of seeing firsthand the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void", shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. From space, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this "pale blue dot" becomes both obvious and imperative.”

From now on in the post, the “Overview Effect” will be written as OE. There are many different interpretations of the entire OE matrix of meaning, but the above is a great framework for this newsletter. Breaking down OE into four pillars: The Void, Fragile Atmosphere, No Borders, & a Unified Planetary Protection Society.

Tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void"

Imagine traveling to space as Carl Sagan put it. “Head out from the Earth in any direction you choose, and—after an initial flash of blue and a longer wait while the Sun fades—you are surrounded by blackness, punctuated only here and there by the faint and distant stars.”

Our home planet, Earth, is a cosmic oasis in the death dessert of space. We are a lonely & rocky planet juxtaposed against the stars, while the enormity and complete envelopment of space makes each human have a large slice of humble pie. Wonder and Awe being the foundation of philosophy, per say, Humanity is thus catapulted into asking and answering just how extraordinary we all are. One of my favorite philosophers Alan Watts, says it this way: “And then more so, when this, so-called, insignificant little creature has inside his skull a neurological contraption that is able to center itself in the midst of these incredible, expansive galaxies and start measuring the whole thing. That is quite extraordinary!”

The same Carl Sagan from above convinced NASA to turn Voyager’s camera’s around to take a photo of Earth. The below picture was taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft while it headed out of the solar system to intergalactic space. (Where it is now.)

The size of humble pie that humans were confronted with on that day is still being calculated. We were confronted with a paradigm shift of consciousness for individuals and the world community, and that is not hyperbole.

“"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there -- on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."Carl Sagan, "Pale Blue Dot," 1994”

What were you doing on July 19th, 2013?

I was celebrating my 25th birthday, and TBH not sure exactly of what transpired that day. But then again, I actually do know what I was doing in some sense because my photo was taken by the Cassini spacecraft. And so did you, if you were one of the humans or life on Earth that day. The below photo marked the first time that people on Earth knew they were about to get their close up from interplanetary distances.

"We can't see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19, 2013" said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini's picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth."

From the above photos you can really get the sense that Earth is a tiny ball of rock “hanging in the void.” You can begin to see the first pillar of OE, The Void, take shape.

Shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere

Study the below photo for a moment. It was taken at the beginning of this decade from the International Space Station. Other than the Moon, the most defining element is the visual juxtaposition from Earth & Space with the atmosphere as the contrasting line. Take special note of the thinness of the atmosphere, as you can tell where the land of Earth ends and the blackness of space begins. Like it said: “paper thin.”

“A setting last quarter crescent moon and the thin line of Earth's atmosphere are photographed by an Expedition 24 crew member as the International Space Station passes over central Asia. 4 Sept. 2010.”

Did you know how important Earth’s atmosphere is for keeping life as we know it alive?

We are constantly bombarded by every ray in the spectrum, including cosmic, gamma, x-ray, and ultraviolet, solar flares by our giant star, the Sun, and keeping the cold and vacuum of space at bay.

What would happen if Earth suddenly lost it’s atmosphere?

“The Earth's magnetic field protects the atmosphere from loss due to solar radiation. Possibly a massive coronal ejection could burn off the atmosphere. A more likely scenario is atmospheric loss due to a massive meteor impact. Large impacts have occurred several times on the inner planets, including Earth. Gas molecules gain enough energy to escape the pull of gravity, but only a portion of the atmosphere is lost. If you think about it, even if the atmosphere ignited, it would only be a chemical reaction changing one type of gas into another. Comforting, right?” - Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

Here's a breakdown of what could be expected via Dr. Helmenstine on ThoughtCo.com:

  • “It would be silent. Sound requires a medium to transmit waves. You could feel vibrations from the ground, but you wouldn't hear anything.

  • Birds and planes would fall from the sky. Although we can't see air (except clouds), it has mass that supports flying objects.

  • The sky would turn black. It's blue because of the atmosphere. You know those pictures taken from the Moon? The Earth's sky would look like that.

  • All unprotected plant and animal life on the Earth's surface would die. We can't survive long in a vacuum, which is what we'd have if the atmosphere suddenly vanished. It would be much like being "spaced' or shot out of an airlock, except the initial temperature would be higher. Eardrums would pop. Saliva would boil. But, you wouldn't die instantly! If you held your breath, your lungs would pop, which would be the quickest (albeit most painful) death. If you exhaled, you'd pass out in about 15 seconds, and die in around 3 minutes. Even if you were handed an oxygen mask, you wouldn't be able to breathe. This is because your diaphragm uses the pressure difference between the air inside your lungs and outside your body to inhale.

  • Let's say you have a pressure suit and air. You'd live, but you'd get a massive sunburn on exposed skin because the Earth's atmosphere is what filters solar radiation. It's hard to say how much trouble you'd be in from this effect on the dark side of the planet, but being in direct sunlight would be severe.

  • The rivers, lakes, and oceans would boil. Boiling occurs whenever vapor pressure of a liquid exceeds external pressure. In a vacuum, water readily boils, even if the temperature is warm. You can even test this yourself.

  • Although water would boil, the water vapor would not fully replenish the atmospheric pressure. An equilibrium point would be reached where there would be enough water vapor to prevent the oceans from boiling off. The remaining water would freeze.

  • Eventually (long after surface life died), solar radiation would break atmospheric water into oxygen, which would react with carbon on the Earth to form carbon dioxide. The air would still be too thin to breathe.

  • The lack of atmosphere would chill the Earth's surface. We're not talking absolute zero cold, but the temperature would drop below freezing. Water vapor from the oceans would act as a greenhouse gas, raising the temperature. Unfortunately, the increased temperature would allow more water to transition from the sea into the air, likely leading to a runaway greenhouse effect and making the planet more like Venus than Mars.

  • Organisms that need air to breathe would die. Plants and land animals would die. Fish would die. Most aquatic organisms would die. However, some bacteria could be expected to survive, so losing the atmosphere wouldn't kill all life on Earth. Chemosynthetic bacteria wouldn't even notice the loss of atmosphere.

  • Volcanoes and geothermal vents would continue to pump carbon dioxide and other gasses out to add to the water. The most significant difference between the original and new atmosphere would be the much lower abundance of nitrogen. Earth could replenish some nitrogen from meteor strikes, but most of it would be lost forever.”

“Bright swaths of red in the upper atmosphere, known as airglow, can be seen in this image taken from the International Space Station.

Our atmosphere is our best protection from the death of space. We are digging our own graves if we do not recognize the importance of our Fragile Atmosphere, the second pillar of the OE.

National boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important

This is the first color photo of the entire Earth, taken by the experimental NASA communications and weather satellite, ATS-3, in November of 1967. You can see the South American continental land mass is predominantly featured, global weather patterns, along with the first and second OE pillars, The Void, & Thin Atmosphere.

The next thing you see and realize is the third pillar of OE - there are no borders. There are definitely geographical barriers, but there are no man made lines denoting countries’ borders like on a globe or map. That is an interesting thought paradox that only will intensify when you see the below 1972 photo from the Apollo astronauts that made headlines around the world as the “Blue Marble.”

“But it was this 1972 photograph of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts that garnered the most notice and is forever enshrined as the best-loved "Blue Marble" photo. (Note: We're showing the true original photograph, with the South Pole on top. For publishing, NASA reversed the image to conform to certain cultural norms.) What might be less well known is that the picture almost never was.” - The Week

“We've heard from some readers who thought that the first updated "Blue Marble" photo was of the same region of the planet as the 1972 image. That's not the case. The Apollo 17 crew took a photo, left, which extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. There is heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere, while the coastline of Africa is visible. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast. The image taken on July 6, 2015, center, was of the other side of the planet and North and Central America are most clear. On July 29, a third "Blue Marble" image, right, was released that shows Africa front and center. Central Europe is toward the top of the image with the Sahara Desert to the south.” - New York Times

So tell me again why we have national borders?

Because a bunch of old, probably white, probably European, wrote some lines down quartering off space from each other as “theirs.” The only nationalism anyone should be a fan of is an ironic food superiority from where you are from over everywhere else in the world. (For instance a hearty & soulful southern USA breakfast is better than anything and my death row meal. Fight me in the comments of your food nationalism and/or death row meal lol) The conflicts that divide people become less important and mainly about misunderstandings, lack of correct & causal information, and ultimately the demonizing of “The Other.”

Zachary Cudney gives us a encouragement in how to see the world “anew” without borders:

“I encourage you to not look at the world as a rigid puzzle of pieces snapped into place, but a dynamic, shifting, evolving network of people and ideas, languages and beliefs, ethnicities and cultures, all connected and unaffected by imaginary lines. I encourage you to acknowledge this connectivity by identifying first and foremost not as citizen of a town or nation, but as a citizen of the world. Finally, I encourage you to be open to diversity, to reject separation, and to always place more of an emphasis on the lines that connect us than the lines that separate us.”

No Borders becomes the third pillar of the OE.

The need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this "pale blue dot"

The below photo called “Earthrise” is one of the most influential photos ever taken. The photo was taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 by Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the moon.

It apparently did not have an immediate impact, but its philosophical significance sunk in over years, after NASA put it on a stamp, and Time & Life magazine highlighted it as an image to be remembered by history at large. “It gained this iconic status,” Anders said. “People realized that we lived on this fragile planet and that we needed to take care of it.”

We have upgraded from the above to the below image in less than 50 years. Renewed awe is desperately needed in today’s tumultuous and overwhelming times.

“On Feb. 1, 2014, LRO pitched forward while approaching the moon's north pole allowing the LROC Wide Angle Camera to capture Earth rising above Rozhdestvenskiy crater (112 miles, or 180 km, in diameter).”

The difference in image quality between the Apollo 8 Earthrise image, left, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Earthrise image, right, is due, in part, to the much higher data rate available for LRO’s communications. LEMNOS will provide another order of magnitude improvement over current data rates.”

What is a Unified Planetary Protection Society (UPPS)?

Climate change within this century is going to create refugees like never before. We have to change attitudes towards immigration, geography, and culture sharing in a drastic way. With new technology such as Artificial Intelligence, Gene Modification, and 3D-printing allowing individuals to rival entire countries or region in influence, the need for a global perspective to deal with. And it won’t come easy either as Marshall McLuhan said with his prescient quote: “Every new technology necessitates a new war.”

A UPPS would HAVE TO include the other “Overview Effect” truisms of Earth with no borders, only being protected by a thin atmosphere, all while hanging in a void at the very minimum.

I am not trying to pontificate and say that I have all the answers as to how we all live in harmony and sing “kumbaya.” Far from it. I completely understand that different cultures have different ways of viewing the world, and the associated values with each. However, we can all agree that some cultures are better than others on specific metrics. So how do we all get on the same ULTIMATE metric, and what underlying values are associated with that? Well again, it would be incredibly ignorant for me to say I have any idea of what that would be, but everything comes back to the Overview Effect being the foundation because of that being our *most* ultimate view of our world.

Seeing the different Earthrise photos sets a curiosity firestorm inside every human. They immediately have to grapple with the photo’s true meanings and implications. Which leads us to the need to create the fourth pillar of OE, a Unified Planetary Protection Society.

Putting the EO four pillars & morality together

Other researchers have ideas -to some extent at least - of what type of values are more beneficial than others for the betterment of all humans. Oliver Scott Curry has come up with 7 moral rules that unite humanity. 600 ethnographic accounts of ethics sources from across 60 societies were studied by Curry’s group. The universal rules of morality are:

  1. Help your family

  2. Help your group

  3. Return favors

  4. Be brave

  5. Defer to superiors

  6. Divide resources fairly

  7. Respect others’ property

“The authors reviewed seven “well-established” types of cooperation to test the idea that morality evolved to promote cooperation, including family values, or why we allocate resources to family; group loyalty, or why we form groups, conform to local norms, and promote unity and solidarity; social exchange or reciprocity, or why we trust others, return favors, seek revenge, express gratitude, feel guilt, and make up after fights; resolving conflicts through contests which entail “hawkish displays of dominance” such as bravery or “dovish displays of submission,” such as humility or deference; fairness, or how to divide disputed resources equally or compromise; and property rights, that is, not stealing.”

Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University critiques Curry’s paper, by saying that a definition of morality is far from a consensus. “Is it about fairness and justice, or about “maximizing the welfare of sentient beings?” Is it about delaying gratification for long-term gain, otherwise known as inter-temporal choice—or maybe altruism?”

“Bloom also says that the authors of the Current Anthropology study do not sufficiently explain the way we come to moral judgements—that is, the roles that reason, emotions, brain structures, social forces, and development may play in shaping our ideas of morality. While the paper claims that moral judgments are universal because of “collection of instincts, intuitions, inventions, and institutions,” Bloom writes, the authors make “no specific claims about what’s innate, what’s learned, and what arises from personal choice.”

BUT HOW?

So are there universal rules of morality for Earthlings, or does it constantly change due to culture & timing? We don’t know yet and we may never know, but just by asking the question we begin to answer that enigma in some small way. I would say there are three things that you can do to put all of this together dealing with the past, the present, and the future.

  1. International Space Station HDEV Experiment

  2. SpaceVR experience

  3. Go to Space either by Space For Humanity, Space Adventures, or Virgin Galactic or the like.

The goal we should be striving for as a species is a multidisciplinary approach - using processes found from people in real world scenarios all over the world for the advantage of all - for symbiotic equilibrium between The Cosmos, Earth, Life, Humans, Tech, and the Unknown! We are All One anyway you slice it.

"The Overview Effect has become a symbol of unity on planet Earth," Frank White told Vice. "But I am concerned that we will lose that unity as we move out into the solar system if we don't think about what we're doing, and come up with a new philosophy, or metaphor, or systematic approach to space exploration."

Currently, the Overview Effect, and it’s four pillars of The Void, Thin Atmosphere, No Borders, and a Unified Planetary Protection Society, is not only my personal favorite, but I believe the most needed and most valuable heuristic in seeing the world as a human being.

It is the cornerstone for Eclectic Spacewalk, and my personal psychology. I hope this post successfully makes the case the “Overview Effect” to be apart of yours moving forward.


Text:

1) The Overview Effect - Space Exploration and Human Evolution

Book by Frank White

“Using interviews with and writings by 30 astronauts and cosmonauts, Frank White shows how experiences such as circling the Earth every 90 minutes and viewing it from the moon have profoundly affected our space travelers' perceptions of themselves, their world, and the future. He shows how the rest of us, who have participated imaginatively in these great adventures, have also been affected psychologically by them.”

2) The Overview Effect: Awe and Self-Transcendent Experience in Space Flight

Paper by the American Psychological Association

“Viewing the Earth from space has often prompted astronauts to report overwhelming emotion and feelings of identification with humankind and the planet as a whole. In this article, we explore this experience, known as the “overview effect.” We examine astronaut accounts of the overview effect and suggest existing psychological constructs,such as awe and self-transcendent experience, that might contribute to a psychological understanding of this experience. We argue that the overview effect suggests directions for future research on altered states of consciousness in new contexts, with potential implications for better understanding well-being in isolated, confined, extreme (ICE)environments such as space flight.”


Audio:

1) The Space Show with Guest Frank White

https://www.thespaceshow.com/show/19-feb-2019/broadcast-3270-frank-white

“Frank and I spent considerable time talking about his new book which focused on creating or developing a space philosophy for exploration and settlement to influence how we do space going forward.  Several times during the our program Frank talked about how his space ideas have evolved from a concept of "just doing it" regarding getting into space to now making sure we "do space right!”

2) Deepak Chopra interviews Anousheh Ansari

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-overview-effect-anousheh-ansari/id1453873374?i=1000434402403

“Space. The final frontier. And maybe, a place we will soon call home. Join me for a perspective shifting adventure outside our atmosphere with the first, and only Iranian Astronaut to go to space, Anousheh Ansari. What can we learn by looking at ourselves from the outside? How do we connect to a universal consciousness? And who exactly do we earthlings think we are? The answers may be right in front of you.”


Video:

1) - Overview by Planetary Collective

“‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.”

2) Planetary by Planetary Collective

“We are in the midst of a global crisis of perspective. We have forgotten the undeniable truth that everything is connected. PLANETARY is a provocative and breathtaking wakeup call, a cross continental, cinematic journey, that explores our cosmic origins and our future as a species. PLANETARY is a poetic and humbling reminder that it's time to shift our perspective. PLANETARY asks us to rethink who we really are, to reconsider our relationship with ourselves, each other and the world around us - to remember that: we are PLANETARY.”

3) One Strange Rock by National Geographic/Netflix

“The extraordinary story of Earth and why it is special and uniquely brimming with life among a largely unknown but harsh cosmic arena; astronauts tell the story of Earth through unique perspectives.”

4) Earthrise Film by Go Project

“Earthrise tells the story of the first image captured of the Earth from space in 1968. Told solely by the Apollo 8 astronauts, the film recounts their experiences and memories and explores the beauty, awe, and grandeur of the Earth against the blackness of space.

This iconic image had a powerful impact on the astronauts and the world, offering a perspective that transcended national, political, and religious boundaries. Told 50 years later, Earthrise compels us to remember this shift and to reflect on the Earth as a shared home.”

5) Overview: A New Perspective of Earth by Benjamin Grant

“Inspired by the "Overview Effect" - a sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth as a whole - the breathtaking, high definition satellite photographs in OVERVIEW offer a new way to look at the landscape that humans have shaped. Benjamin Grant, creator of the Instagram project Daily Overview from which the book is inspired, discusses how the project and book came about.”

Honorable Mention Videos:


Websites & Groups:

1) The Overview Institute

https://overviewinstitute.org/

“For these reasons, the undersigned individuals, formally known as The Overview Group, have come together to create The Overview Institute with the purpose of both researching and informing the world of the reality, nature, and potential of the Overview Effect. We will also promote and support widespread experience of it, through direct space travel, and newer, more powerful and more publicly available space art, multi-media and education. We will encourage artists, educators, entertainment creators, and simulation media designers and technologists to consider the rich potential of integrating the Overview Effect into their work as well as the opportunity to play a role in bringing space experiences to the world. And, just as important, we will network with world social leaders in all those areas most likely to benefit from the Overview Effect, both directly experienced and through space media.”

2) The Daily Overview

http://www.dailyoverview.com/

“Daily Overview was inspired by, and derives its name from, an idea known as the Overview Effect. This term refers to the sensation that astronauts experience when given the opportunity to look down and view the Earth from outer space. They have the chance to appreciate our home in its entirety, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once. That’s the cognitive shift that we hope to inspire…

As a result, the Overviews (what we call these images) focus primarily on the places and moments where human activity — for better or for worse — has shaped the landscape. Each Overview starts with a thought experiment. We consider the places where man has left his mark on the planet and then conduct the necessary research to identify locations (and the corresponding geo-coordinates) to convey that idea.”

3) SpaceVR

https://spacevr.co/about/

“SpaceVR is a transformative virtual experience that has the power to evolve planetary consciousness and solve global issues. We have pioneered a multi-sensory, virtual experience that takes you on voyage to the vast skies of Earth’s orbit while in a zero-gravity float tank. Our stellar team is working on launching the world’s first virtual reality camera satellite in the history of humanity. Join our mission! We believe in exploration that empowers.”

4) Space for Humanity

https://www.spaceforhumanity.org/

“In July 2019, Space for Humanity will be re-opening individual applications for an all-expenses-paid journey to experience the Overview Effect - a cognitive shift in worldview that occurs to astronauts when they experience the Earth from Space. We will partner with all available launch providers to offer global citizens sub-orbital spaceflights.”

5) Space Adventures

https://spaceadventures.com/

“Space Adventures wants as many people as possible to experience what it is like to live in space, to circle the Earth, or travel beyond Earth orbit. In the next ten years, our clients will have a choice as to what vehicle to fly to space on, and will be able to choose from multiple different destinations. By providing newly available space experiences and improving existing ones, Space Adventures will continue to lead the private spaceflight industry that it began in 2001 with the flight of the world’s first space tourist, our client Dennis Tito.”

6) Virgin Galactic

https://www.virgingalactic.com/

“We are a part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, and with our sister companies – The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit – we are developing and operating a new generation of space vehicles to open space for everyone.

We are comprised of hundreds of dedicated and passionate professionals, united in creating the world’s first commercial spaceline. Our mission – to be the spaceline for Earth – means we focus on using space for good, while delivering an unparalleled customer experience.”


What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on Systems Theory, specifically the book Thinking in Systems: A Primer.

If you enjoyed this post, please share to other potential eclectic spacewalkers, consider subscribing or gift a subscription, or connect with us on social media to continue the conversation! Also, I am an advocate of Bitcoin. My address is on my About.Me page if you are feeling extra curious.

Twitter: @ESpacewalk

Minds: @EclecticSpacewalk

Website: www.EclecticSpacewalk.com

Thank You for your time. Until next week, Ad Astra!


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