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General News    H2'ed 6/1/15

Transcript: Fritjof Capra-- Forget Newtonian Physics and Atomism-- Learn About the Systems View Of Life and the Universe

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FC: Yes and you know when I studied that, I began to study the application of the systems view through social systems and especially human organizations about ten years ago. And it was a big struggle for me to understand the nature of human organizations and I asked myself the question, you know there is now this systems view of life, can it be applied to human organizations? And how can it be applied? In other words, is a business organization or a political organization, or any other human organization, is it a living system? And if so, in what way? And where are, you know, where's the equivalent to the patterns of life that we observe in biological systems? And it took me a long time to find the answer and many discussions with organizational theorists and sociologists to answer this question: is an organization a living system or not? And the answer is yes and no. And this is why it took me such a long time because every human organization has a dual nature. It is a social, if you wish a social instrument, designed for a certain purpose. So you have a company that sells shoes and they're designed to produce shoes in the most efficient way, to sell them and market them in the most efficient way and they have organized their company, if it's a big company in terms of departments and well described tasks. So it's a social instrument that has been designed in a certain way and they want to maximize efficiency and so on. And that's the sort of mechanistic view. But then, this organization also consists of human beings and human beings, as all life, have the tendency to form communities. And so there are relationships within all human organizations which organizational theorists have called communities of practice: people relate to each other in ways that makes their work, you know, more meaningful or more pleasant or more tolerable and they form bonds, they form friendships and alliances. And that's the part of the organization that is alive. These informal networks, or communities of practice, and so to apply the systems view of life to human organizations, we have, our managers and leaders have to acknowledge these communities of practice and you know, integrate them into the design of the organization. That's the critical challenge.

Rob: Okay, very interesting. Now you say that relationships and interconnections define properties. Where does that fit in here?

FC: Well, if you think for example, of there are so called systemic properties that are properties of the whole, which none of the parts have. For example, think of health. You know, my health is not the sum of the health of my fingers and toes and teeth and hair and internal organs, but my health arises from relationships between these various parts of the body. And also arises from my, you know, psychological or mental outlook and arises from the way I act in society. So there's psychological health, there's social health, there's ecological or environmental health, and there's biological health. And all this is a consequence of relationships of the various components of the system with other components and with the environment. Another way of saying this, which I found very interesting and I talk about this in the later part of the book, is you can distinguish between quantities and qualities, and the systemic properties that arise from relationships are qualities. And we do talk about the quality of life and when you - I thought about this a lot and realized that quantities really give you information about the parts. If you take - if you have say a complex system, and you want to know what its mass is, or its weight, then you know you can weigh the parts and you know you'll get the total weight. If for example, a company ships its products in containers and they want to know the weight of the container because you know, they have to pay for the transport according to the weight. They just weigh the parts and then they multiply by the number of products that are in the container and they have the total weight. So these quantities, all this relates to the parts and the sum of the quantities of the parts is equal to the whole quantity, the total weight or the total mass, or energy is the same, it's quantitative measure and the total energy of the system is the sum total of the energies of the parts. But quality's very different. So I mentioned health or stress is another one, which is sort of the opposite of health. This system is stressed because it is out of balance and so it is a consequence of uneven relationships between the parts. So these qualities always refer to relationships.

Rob: Okay, now you give a great discussion on the evolution of economics, including the flaws of the Adam Smith and Keynes models. Can you - and your ideas about the GDP, can you talk about this a bit, the evolution of economics -

FC: Yeah, well let me say that the last part of the book, which we call sustaining the web of life, is three chapters or two hundred pages, which is all about applications. So the book is not just theory, I mean I think you - the listeners will gather this from our conversation, that a lot of important implications of this paradigm shift from the mechanistic to a systemic view. And economics is a big field and this is why I got so interested in the juxtaposition of a quantity and quality. First of all, let me say that when I began writing this last part, I made a map of the major problems of our time and how they're all interconnected because I think it's very important to realize that whether we talk about energy or environment, climate change, politics, economics, and so on, none of these issues or problems can be understood in isolation. They're all interconnected and in scientific terms we call this systemic problems which need systemic solutions. Another way of saying this is that a systemic problem has harmful consequences in many areas and a systemic solution solves problems in many areas. So I mapped out the interconnectedness of the world's problems and the pieces of this map I got from a very important book by Lester Brown, the founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the book is called Plan B and he provides a review of systemic solutions that already exist and he calls this Plan B. Plan A would be business as usual, which is disastrous today, and in the first part of the book, he gives a brilliant systemic analysis of the world's problems and I took the pieces of that analysis to draw this interconnected map; which is presented on a page of the book. And then I tried to find out what's at the bottom of these interconnected problems and I realized that the fundamental dilemma underlying all these problems seems to be the illusion that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet. And it should be obvious that this cannot be. If you have a finite environment, not everything can grow in an unlimited way so it's really an irrational belief in perpetual economic growth that is held by virtually all our politicians and corporate economists. And I see it as a clash between linear thinking, projecting out into the future in a linear way and the nonlinear patterns in our biosphere, the ecological networks and cycles that constitute the web of life. And of course economic and corporate growth are the driving forces of global capitalism, the dominant economic system today, and at the center of this global economy we have a network of financial flows that is sort of what people sometimes call casino finance where there are speculators like players, gamblers in the casino investing and speculating and this whole network has been designed without any ethical framework. And so it has tremendous harmful consequences. So in this economic system, perpetual growth is pursued relentlessly by promoting excessive consumption, a throw away economy that is energy and resource intensive, creating waste and pollution and depleting the earth's resources. And, so, it seems that the key challenge of our time is how to shift from an economic system based on the notion of unlimited growth to one that is both sustainable and socially just. And there are some movements especially in Europe that advertise a no growth society, or negative growth, and I believe that this is not a good way of thinking about it because growth is a central characteristic of all life. So a society or an economy that does not grow will die sooner or later; however, growth in nature is not linear and unlimited. When you look an ecosystem for example, you see certain parts that grow, others that reach maturity decline and then disintegrate and they release and recycle their components, which become resources for new growth. And this balanced multifaceted growth is something that is very well known to biologists and ecologists and this is what I have called qualitative growth to contrast it with the concept of quantitative growth measured in terms of the gross domestic product and used by today's economy. And when you look at today's economy with all the waste that is produced just to make money with all the various gadgets and the packaging that constitutes waste and fills up our landfills. So you see that most of what is called growth by economists today is waste; which means that we have an economic largely of waste and destruction. So I contrast this with qualitative growth, which is growth that enhances the quality of life through generation and re-generation. And this also includes an increase of complexity, of sophistication, of maturity, it's not just you know getting larger, expanding. Some things grow, others decline, so we need to qualify growth; we need to be able to decide or to distinguish between good growth and bad growth. And the good growth should continue the bad growth should decline. And from an environmental or ecological point of view, it's quite easy to see what is good growth and what is bad growth. So the things that contain toxics that pollute that create wastes, that's the bad growth, and things that you know recycle raw materials, contain no toxics, enhance local communities, that's the good growth. So that's the key challenge, to move from as I see it at least, to move from quantitative growth to qualitative growth.

Rob: Okay, well what I wanted to really kind of have you cover is the - you have in your chapter on economics the flaws of Keynesian economics because it ignores a bunch of factors. Can you talk about those?

FC: Yes well -

Rob: It's on page fifty-five in the book.

FC: Let's see where to start. Before Keynesian [economics, there was the industrial revolution and you know, capitalism, just trying to maximize profits which led to horrendous exploitation of labor forces. And after World War Two, John Maynard Keynes in England came up with a revised capitalist model where he included the observation that there are business cycles and proposed the idea that an economy can be fine-tuned by interchanging certain parameters. Like taxes or interest rates and you know, economic parameters. And this was successful for a very long time, so again the view was of the economy as a machine that can be fine-tuned, that can be re-engineered and can be controlled in this way. But what happened then with globalization was that a national economy - national economies do not exist any longer because we have a global economy where everything is interconnected. And so the Keynesian methods of controlling the economy were methods to be applied by the state, by the nation state. And the nation state today doesn't have an influence on say, in the nation state of the United States doesn't have an influence on what happens in China or what happens in Japan or what happens in Latin America, so the economy has become global and the second big development has been that corporations have become all powerful, transcending the power of nations. And so, corporations cannot be controlled by politics, it's the contrary, it's corporations control politicians much more than the other way around. So the whole Keynesian model then, showed these very fundamental flaws. And the new economy is a global economy based on networks which would be fine, but the problem is that it is an essentially capitalist economy where making money is always considered more important than anything else, than any other human values; whether it's the health of human beings or social justice, the quality of the natural environment, the quality of the atmosphere in terms of global warming and climate change. All this has to take a backseat where when it is compared to making more money. And actually, the global economy is designed and managed by computers that are programmed in such a way that when there's a decision whether a certain investment should make more money or pay attention to other human values, the program to go towards making more money. And, so this is the key that the financial network of global capitalism has been designed without any ethical framework. And what I'm promoting is to reintroduce ethics into that global framework and this can be done by promoting this idea of qualitative growth; which has an ethical component, as I said before. We distinguish between good growth and bad growth and that's an ethical distinction.

Rob: Okay. Now along these lines, can you talk about GDP?

FC: Yes, well GDP, the gross domestic product is a parameter that measures products being sold and produced and sold without any consideration whether they are harmful or whether they are beneficial. It's a purely quantitative measure without any other considerations and the aim of the unlimited growth is GDP growth that should grow without any limits. So, when there's a major oil spill, for instance, it's a huge damage, but it's good for the GDP because the clean up crews and all kinds of money being spent on cleaning up. Although the general wealth of a community, or the wellbeing of the community and we need to realize that wealth and wellbeing are connected, does not improve, but the GDP grows and so it's considered good for the economy. So it's a really grotesque situation and we need to replace GDP by a different set of indicators, by qualitative indicators like you know, health, literacy, social justice, environmental quality and so on.

Rob: It's like Bhutan where they measure the happiness.

FC: Yeah, something like that. So, happiness, health, equity, education, social inclusion, the environment, and none of these parameters can be reduced to money coefficients or aggregated into one single number. So there's a whole pattern of qualities that give us information about the health of an economy.

Rob: And again, the pattern is a systems approach rather than a quantitative measure which is a mechanistic approach.

FC: Yes, and as I said before, the systemic properties of a system are qualities. So that's a big difference.

Rob: Okay, I'm going to move along. Actually I want to do a station ID because we're

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Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. 

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He is the author of The Bottom-up Revolution; Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity  

He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites,

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Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization (more...)

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