Reflections Retrospectives

Retrospective 2019-45

This is a look back at this week’s reading and painting.



Recently, I have discovered Carolyn J Roberts’s – Fine Artist blog. Carolyn Roberts (@CRJFineArtist) took the decision six years ago to re-ignite her passion for art. I enjoy both her art and writing.

Another blog which has caught my interest is Vogel Wakefield’s – The counter-consultancy blog.


Martin Vogel (@martivo) writes in Conversations matters more that structure in organisations that “day-to-day interactions … are much more material to how things get done than the structures, strategies, documents and plans that people imagine to be their work.” Martin Vogel continues with: “One of the consequences of viewing an organisation as a thing is that managers … end up bringing the attitude they bring to other thing-like objects. Instead of relating to their colleagues as other human beings …, they implicitly treat them as constituent parts of a machine.” “It follows that one of the most critical skills for leaders is enabling in organisations the conversations that need to happen. This calls for approaches to facilitation that are mostly alien to managers accustomed to working with the organisation-as-thing analogy.”

Esko Kilpi (@EskoKilpi) writes in his article on We need to shift our focus from competencies to agency that “work corresponds with art through creative and contextual engagements.” Work is about “agency, human beings being … present for each other.” Esko Kilpi emphasizes that work is more about “exploration of solutions” than the “repetitive business processes we know so well, where inputs are … converted into outputs” in some “predictable” way. There are no “predetermined task sequences” that “guarantee success.” Work is “highly contextual”, and “requires interpretation” and “a new kind of agency.”

Esko Kilpi writes furthermore in his article on Complexity revisited that management theory is based on the assumption that the world can be “described and understood by identifying causal links: if I choose X, then it will lead to Y.” Esko Kilpi writes: “We try to model the world as predictable processes based on knowing how things are and controlling how they will be.” “We want things to appear orderly…, but what happens is inherently unpredictable.” “There is no linearity in the world of human beings. This is why our thinking needs to develop to something more applicable to sense making…” It’s about “being at the edge of chaos.” That is, being alive.

Another post I’ve read this week is the transcprition of Martin Fowler’s (@martinfowler) keynote, The State of Agile Software in 2018, at Agile Australia. Martin Fowler says: “It’s “values and principles that count”. People work “the best when they choose how they want to work.” “If you want to succeed in doing software development, you need to find good people. You need to find good people that work together at a human level, so they can collaborate effectively. The choice of what tools they use or what process they should follow is second order.” This is true for all knowledge work. (And all work is knowledge work.)


I started reading Imagine Chicago: Then Years of Imagination in Action by Bliss Browne and Shilpa Jain, with contributions from Diana Tatarchuk and Yasmeen Basheeruddin, and a forward by Melinda Fine. I got this book via Skye Hirst (@autognomics). Bliss Browne writes in A Mother’s Story that she “assumed that people connect out of common interests or strengths”, but understood that “our most profound connection is based in a common vulnerability”. Our common bond is “to recognize and accept.” One thing that has emerged for her is to “think like a mother.” Bliss Browne interpreted this to mean that “it was not necessary to create anything, only to stay open and present to what would emerge naturally.”


The workweek saps my creative energy. I have discovered that relaxation kick in while painting. I spent Saturday exploring a motif from Falkenberg, Sweden. The challenge is to get depth in the painting without it getting cluttered.

This week I have also made a series of paintings from Lillåudden, Västerås, Sweden.

Final reflection

I started searching for life-giving ways of working seven years ago. Lately, I have realized that my searching is more about seeing than finding. The first years, I spent much time searching for solutions. For example by learning about sociocracy, which lead to the publishing of Sociokrati — En metod för självstyre in Swedish on Leanpub. A year later, I started my series of posts on organizing between and beyond, which is an inquiry into deeper generative order for organizing. Another shift happened this year when I started painting. It’s all about seeing!

Books Reflections Retrospectives

Retrospective 2019-26

This is a look back at my reading and painting during the week, including some reflections.


I made the following notes to myself this month:

  • Life is self-creating in a dynamically alive universe.
  • Generative organizing is autopoietic.
  • Allopoietic operating principles are “poisonous” for living systems.
  • Organizing between and beyond is about moving beyond the ‘mechanical world’ (as defined by John G. Bennett).
  • By keeping open the day gradually forms itself.
  • What is it that I really know about organizing, and what do I intend to do with that knowledge?
  • ‘Calculative thinking’ turns people and nature into resources (as defined by Ingrid Leman Stefanovic).
  • Seeing ourselves as ‘managers’ distances us intellectually and emotionally from the recognition that people are human beings (and not human resources).
  • Real change requires a shift in values and perceptions.
  • John G. Bennet uses mechanistic language, derived from Gurdjieff, to describe something non-mechanical. The human body is not an engine or a machine for doing work!
  • Generative organizing has less to do with imposing a structure than with illuminating an implicit order.
    • Such an implicit order cannot be reduced to subjective constructs or theoretical explanations, any more than it can be replaced with a mathematical representation.
  • Illuminating the implicit order means that it is ‘pre-understood’—that is, comprehended prior to an intellectualized analysis.
  • The wholeness of the corporation is a vision much needed in view of the limitations in the perspective of corporate management.
  • The whole is no-thing, but not nothing.
  • The greatest blasphemy imaginable is to ignore Life’s ‘intrinsic value’ (as defined by Robert S. Hartman). (This is a response to Martin Heidegger who wrote in Letter on Humanism that “thinking in values is the greatest blasphemy imaginable against Being”. Maybe Heidegger’s neglect of values explains his Nazi association? Robert S. Hartman, on the contrary, fled Nazi Germany for his opposition to Hitler.)
  • To be free one must fall—free fall.
  • Living organization allows organisms to be organisms.
  • ‘Coherence’ is the basis of living organization (as defined by Mae-Wan Ho).
  • Organizations are more like organisms than machines.
  • The system isn’t broken—it was built this way.
  • You cannot change the system unless you transform consciousness. (This is from a tweet by Kelvy Bird. Kelvy Bird’s writing and drawing resonates deeply with me!)
  • You cannot transform consciousness until you help the system see and sense itself. (Again, this is from Kelvy Bird’s tweet.)


Mae-Wan Ho, Meaning of Life and the Universe: Transforming.

This week I’ve read Meaning of Life and the Universe: Transforming by Mae-Wan Ho. Mae-Wan Ho’s theory of the organism has profound implications for organizing, since our organizations are more like organisms than machines. Coherence is the basis for living organization.

Interestingly, Mae-Wan Ho does the same kind of experiment as Christopher Alexander‘s, but seems unaware of his work. Alexander argues in The Nature of Order that we are able to sense the degree of ‘life’ in an entity and demonstrates this with experiments the reader can do.

Mae-Wan Ho shows the same kind of cells prepared using two different procedures and asks: Which is the more beautiful, the one on the left, or the one on the right? Now, which is the more true to life? Interestingly, the cells which are more ‘beautiful’ are also more true to life, since they have the water preserved in them.


This week’s paintings: Flowers.
This week’s paintings: Water & Sky.
This week’s paintings: Trees & Landscapes.
Books Reflections Retrospectives

Retrospective 2019-22

This is a look back at my reading and painting during the week.


I enjoy painting trees and flowers, water and sky! It’s meditative.

This week’s paintings


I’ve read David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous this week.

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous.

I’ve also read, or rather re-read, Elisabet Sahtouris’ EarthDance during week. I was reminded that what Elisabet Sahtouris has to say is highly relevant for generative organizing! Here is a list of organizational and operational features of healthy living systems from the book, and here is a comparison between operating principles for mechanisms and organisms. Generative organizing is autopoietic.

Elisabet Sahtouris, EarthDance.

Finally, I’ve also read Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies. It was a quick read. Alice Miller describes how “poisonous pedagogy” impairs, if not entirely kills, the feeling for who we are, what we feel, and what we need. We may ignore or deride the messages of the body, but what it says demands to be heeded because its language is the authentic expression of our needs and of the strength of our vitality. This is also relevant for generative organizing. Allopoietic operating principles are “poisonous” for autopoietic living systems.

Articles Reflections Retrospectives

Retrospective 2019-18


The purpose of this post is to summarize the week.

First, a short background. I have done weekly retrospectives since 2016. However, this is the first retrospective this year which I write in English. So much of what I read is in English, and it feels akward having to translate it into Swedish while summarizing. Swedish, on the other hand, is my native language, which means that if I want to express some tentative new thoughts, then English feels akward.


I started painting a month ago, and, to my surprise, I’m pretty good ; ) I absolutely love it! Below are this week’s paintings.


I’ve finished reading On Dialogue by David Bohm. I warmly recommend the book and will write a book review next week.


Below are notes I’ve written to myself (with the most recent first). Many of them come from my reading of Christopher Alexander, Eugene Gendlin, Robert Hartman, and David Bohm:

  • Both Christopher Alexander and David Bohm talk about ‘unfolding.’ For Alexander it’s an unfolding from the Whole, for Bohm it’s an unfolding from the implicate order.
  • Our ‘organizing‘ prevents our organizations from unfolding.
  • A gentle hug changes the emotional landscape.
  • We are looking through our assumptions.
  • Those who benefit most from a system are those who don’t take it too seriously.
  • Assumptions produce their own intentions.
  • Respect for people” is to value people intrinsically (as defined by Robert Hartman).
  • Dialogue may occur but is by no means guaranteed.
  • Defensive posturing can diminish when there’s warmth and fellowship.
  • The ‘tacit ground‘ is what holds work together.
  • The ‘life‘ we experience in each moment is deeply correlated with the ‘space‘ in which we find ourselves. (This is a paraphrase of Christopher Alexander.)
  • We need to pay more attention to the wholeness (Bortoft) of work, in particular to include intrinsic values (Hartman) and degrees of life (Alexander) in the organizations we create.
  • The organism is not the sort of thing that can properly act mechanically. (This is a paraphrase of David Bohm)
  • Disharmony inevitably arises from trying to impose a defined process.
  • A child learns to walk and to talk just by trying something out and seeing what happens. As the child grows older learning becomes narrower. In school, s/he learns by to please the teacher and pass tests. At work, s/he learns to please the manager and make a living.
  • Thoughts emerge, create actions, and leave traces in the world.
  • We unconsciously practice metaphysics through our prevailing world view.
  • Insight and imagination give rise to one another.
  • When the original insight has established itself, new lines of conjecture and reasoning emerge. Strict formality and logic may expose hidden contradictions and limitations, which may lead to new insights.
  • When the intrinsic meaning of an insight is tentatively formulated in language it can be reflected upon internally, as well as be provisionally communicated externally with others.
  • Varying degrees of wholeness, while not algorithmic, are neither random nor accidental.
  • Giving simple attention is itself a primary creative act. Creativity is not the result of a planned and formulated goal, but rather the by-product of an attentive mind.
  • Insights can result in entirely new conceptual structures.
  • Experience can be structured through the use of concepts.
  • I can only change myself. When I change, you change.
  • Generative organizing works with invisibles, dimensions of human experience that can be felt. (This is related to Eugene Gendlin’s notion of felt sense.)
  • Silence speaks.
  • Life is now.


Below are articles which I read this week (I mention them here so that I can go back if I want to):

  • Resilience Engineering Notes by Lorin Hochstein. Resilience describes how well a system can handle troubles that were not foreseeable by the designer. There’s a change in perspectives on accidents and safety which is relevant for generative organizing as well. The traditional approaches often focus on “minimizing variance associated with humans doing work, using techniques such as documented procedures and enforcement mechanisms for deviating from them“, while the “new view” focuses on “understanding how actions taken by actors involved in the incident were rational, given what information those actors had at the time that events were unfolding.” “A recurring theme in resilience engineering is about reasoning holistically about systems… When you view the world as a system, the idea of cause becomes meaningless, because there’s no way to isolate an individual cause. Instead, the world is a tangled web of influences.
  • Whole Intelligence and the global emergency by Malcolm Parlett. “An existential crisis provokes us to think about our individual responses, facing the extremity of our human & global predicament. We wonder what … steps that we can take to embolden ourselves to live more faithfully in accord with our deepest values …
  • Arthur Koestler: 20th century man by Masha Karp. This article reminded me of my own post on Arthur Koestler. Koestler coined the term holarchy. He criticized the mechanistic view of organisms, and called the doctrine that they are “essentially passive automata controlled by the environment, whose sole purpose in life is the reduction of tensions“, a monumental superstition. Said differently, it’s a monumental mistake to view people essentially as sensors controlled by the organization, whose sole purpose is to process tensions.
  • Henri Bortoft’s Explorations of Goethe’s Dynamic Way of Seeing by Simon Robinson. “Goethe directs us into the sensory experience & away from the verbal, logical, conceptual & abstract mind. … when we move into an analysis of dynamic organisms, our minds encounter paradoxes, which they are unable to resolve within their own way of thinking.
  • Nature Unfolding by Tricycle, where Katy Butler speaks with Christopher Alexander. “If people think something ought to be a certain shape and then they start making it that shape instead of doing what the unfolding tells them to do, they will royally screw it up. Because of concepts! Concepts interfere with this process… Because human concepts, no matter how cleverly conceived they are, almost always work against the Whole. And that’s what we’ve been witnessing in architecture now for about one hundred years. The world is now prevented from unfolding.
  • Business “Basics for the Brink of Extinction by Michelle Holliday. Michelle Holliday writes that: “…in my experience, methods and techniques are a dime a dozen. Packaged with a shiny bow. Promised to work, just add water. Yet it’s never that easy, is it?” Yes, it’s never that easy! Methods and techniques need to unfold.


The following poem came to me this week (in English and Swedish):

Reflections Retrospectives Thoughts

Retrospektiv 2019-15

Detta är en tillbakablick på veckan.

Det mekaniska sättet att se missar det väsentliga

Vid sidan av mitt läsande och bloggande har jag ett heltidsarbete, som naturligtvis tar mycket tid. En stor del av min övriga tid den här veckan har jag ägnat mig åt att rita och måla. Det började i slutet av mars och jag kan inte sluta! Jag är fullständigt uppslukad av det. Jag ägnar timmar åt rita och måla — varje dag.

Om och om igen återkommer jag till samma motiv i ett försök att fånga det.

Och igår slogs jag över hur oerhört vacker en tulpan är om man verkligen försöker att se! Den har en skönhet som berör mig och fyller mig med en känsla som jag saknar ord för.

Mekanisk ordning kan beskrivas — och uppfinnas. Det är en ordning kopplad till hur något fungerar. Gör det här så händer det där! Men den ordning som finns i en blomma, ett leende, eller ett meningsfullt arbete kan inte representeras som en mekanism. Och ändå är det så vi beskriver oss själva och våra organisationer, som ett mekaniskt arrangemang av processer, roller och funktioner. Det är maskinens ordning. Livets ordning är något helt annat. Det är något som är, som i en blomma. En maskin gör, en blomma lever. Ser vi det? Sätter vi värde på det?

Ytterst handlar det om att se livets inneboende värde

Ett genomgående tema i min blogg handlar om mitt sökande efter bättre sätt att arbeta tillsammans. Min slutsats är att livgivande (eller livsbejakande) sätt att arbeta ytterst handlar om värderingar. Det handlar om att se och agera utifrån att livet självt har ett inneboende värde. Ser vi och värderar vi inte livet självt är det enda som återstår en maskin (systemet), och vi är kuggar i den. I det lilla perspektivet handlar det om individens överlevnad (mitt eget liv), i det stora om mänsklighetens överlevnad (allas våra liv).

Vi vet hur vi ska organisera för att tjäna pengar. Hur vore det om vi började organisera för att tjäna livet (varandra och allt annat som lever på denna vår gemensamma planet)?

Organizing Reflections

Organizing reflections

This is an overview of reflections in the series on organizing “between and beyond.” The series is an ongoing inquiry into a deeper “generative order” for organizing. It’s a search for a major shift in how we perceive and organize work. The purpose of the reflections are to reflect on subjects occupying my mind.

Here are the posts sorted based on topic. Here are the retrospectives.

Here are the posts sorted based on topic.

Organizing Reflections Workplaces

Organizing reflection 35

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
I’m currently reading Peter B. Vaill’s book Learning as a Way of Being. Waill introduces seven qualities, or modes, of learning as a way of being:1

Self-directed learning
Creative learning
Expressive learning
Feeling learning
On-line learning
Continual learning
Reflexive learning

These modes overlap and interrelate in countless ways.2

Similarly, generative organizing is self-directed, creative, continual, and reflexive. It’s about expressing our felt sense for a situation. It’s to discover in the real time of the situation how to act effectively.3

Institutional learning is the antithesis of learning as a way of being. Likewise, institutional organizing is the antithesis of generative organizing.

1 Peter B. Vaill, Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water (Jossey Bass Business and Management Series, 1996), p. 56.
2 Ibid., pp. 86–86.
3 Ibid., p. 155.

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Life Organizing Reflections Thoughts

Organizing reflection 34

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
I’ve just read Andreas Weber’s excellent book The Biology of Wonder, which is about aliveness, feeling, and the paradigm shift from Enlightenment to Enlivenment.1 It’s one of the most interesting books I’ve read in the last six years. The book is about moving beyond reason into scientific, economic, and organizational enlivenment. The latter is about the move from mechanistic to more organic forms of societal organization. Andreas Weber writes (my emphasis in bold):

To organize a community (between humans and/ or nonhuman agents) according to the principles of embodied ecology, therefore always means to increase individual freedom by enlarging the community’s freedom …2

Living reality rather depends on a precarious balance between autonomy and relatedness on all its levels. It is a creative process, which produces rules for an increase of the whole through the self-realization of each of its members. These rules are different for each time and each place, but we find them everywhere life is. They are valid for autopoiesis, the autocreation of the organic forms but also for a well-achieved human relationship, for a prospering ecosystem as well as for an economy in harmony with the biospheric household.3

It must be a practice of realizing oneself through connection with others, who are also free to realize themselves. […] If we look to the ways other cultures have tried to become a creative part of ecosystems, […] we can observe that the form they do this is what we would call a commons. The other beings are not an outside nor a resource.4

Historically, we understand by “commons” an economic system in which various participants use the same resource and follow particular rules in order not to overexploit it. If we look deeper into actual commons principles, we can see that the traditional commoners do not distinguish between the resource they protect and themselves, as users of the resource. The members of a commons are not conceptually detached from the space they are acting in. The commons and the commoners are the same. This is basically the situation in an ecosystem.5

The idea of the commons thus provides a unifying principle that dissolves the supposed opposition between nature and society/culture. It cancels the separation of the ecological and the social. In any existence that commits itself to the commons, the task we must face is to realize the well-being of the individual while not risking a decrease of the surrounding and encompassing whole.6

Generative organizing increases individual and organizational freedom, while it balances autonomy and relatedness on all levels. It’s a generative/creative process for well-achieved human relationships, prospering organizations, as well as for an economy in harmony with the biosphere.

1 Heike Löschmann of Heinrich Böll Foundation coined the term “enlivenment“. See Andreas Weber, Enlivenment: Towards a fundamental shift in the concepts of nature, culture, and politics (Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2013), p. 11.
2 Andreas Weber, The Biology of Wonder: Aliveness, Feeling and the Metamorphosis of Science (New Society Publishers, 2016, Kindle Edition), p. 352.
3 Ibid., p. 353.
4 Ibid..
5 Ibid..
6 Ibid., p. 353–354.

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Agile Reflections

Organizing reflection 33

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
Woody Zuill (@WoodyZuill) is co-author of Mob Programming: A Whole Team Approach. He works with software development teams to help them excel in their work and life. Woody Zuill uses the values and principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development as a foundation for his work, but he doesn’t see them as “static.” He sees them as a “somewhat firm yet dynamic set of guidelines” for his own thinking and exploration. For him, “Pure Agile” is to “constantly Reflect, Tune, and Adjust.”1 For me, this sounds generative.

Generative organizing requires constant reflecting, tuning, and adjusting. This is based on continuous felt sensing.2

1 Woody Zuill, To Me, This is Agile, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Agility, 2014-03-31 (accessed 2018-09-01).
2 Eugene Gendlin described the unclear, pre-verbal sense of “something” as a felt sense. Gendlin also described it as “sensing an implicit complexity, a wholistic sense of what one is working on”. See Focusing – Wikipedia (accessed 2018-09-01).

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Organizing Reflections

Organizing reflection 32

This is a post in my series on organizing ”between and beyond.” Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to reflect on subjects occupying my mind. I make no claim to fully believe what I write. Neither do I pretend that others have not already thought or written about the same subject. More often than not, I take up, combine, and add to already existing thoughts and ideas.

What is on my mind?
Today’s reflection is based on Abeba Birhane‘s (@Abebab) tweets from Alicia Juarrero‘s book Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System. This is an interesting book about complexity and human intentionality. Juarrero argues that a mistaken model underlies contemporary theories of action and proposes a different logic based on complex adaptive systems.

With thanks to Abeba Birhane, here are some quotes from Alicia Jarreror’s book (my highlights in bold):

Behaviourist analyses have tried to reduce the flexibility and appropriateness characteristic of human action to stimulus-response patterns.

What went largely unrecognized until recently was the fact that the classical thermodynamics of the 19th century treats all systems as if they are closed, isolated & near equilibrium – which living things are not.

Interactions among certain dynamical processes can create a systems-level organization with new properties that are not the simple sum of the components that constitute the higher level.

The causal mechanism at work between levels of hierarchical organizations can be best understood as the operations of constraints.

When organized into a complex, integral whole, parts become correlated as a function of context-dependent constraints imposed on them by the newly organized system in which they are now embedded.

Constraints work by modifying either a system’s phase space or the probability distribution of events and movements within that space.

There is ample evidence that the human brain is a self-organized, complex adaptive system that encodes stimuli with context-sensitive constraints.

Far from representing messy, noisy complications that can be safely ignored, time and context are as central to the identity and behaviour of dynamic processes as they are to human beings.

Unlike the processes described by classical thermodynamics, which in their relentless march toward equilibrium forget their past, complex adaptive systems are essentially historical.

If human beings and their behaviour are complex adaptive phenomena, the precise pathway that their actions will take is simply unpredictable.

Historical, interpretive stories might not allow us to predict future behaviour, but they do allow us to understand why it is unpredictable.

Even after the advent of the theories of evolution and thermodynamics, modern science continued to restrict itself to closed linear systems abstracted from their historical and spatial context.

Only with the recent development of complexity theory have openness, nonlinearity, time, and context come to the forefront.

… philosophers are unable to conceptualize and explain either voluntary self-motion or an agent’s purposive actions. As is often the case in philosophy, it all goes back to Aristotle.

How the Modern Understanding of Cause Came to Be

In a universe where only point masses and forces are considered real, qualities that are a function of the relation between atoms, or between organisms and the world, were dismissed as subjective.

By the end of the 17th century, all relational properties, such as temperature and colour, that did not fit into this scheme were relegated to the inferior status of “secondary” qualities.

Galileo’s ability to set aside the interference of friction from the equations governing the motion of bodies also suggested that context contributes nothing to reality.

Newtonian atomism reduced the universe to the relations between single material points whose movements from one position to another are time-reversible.

True self-cause would involve localized parts interacting so as to produce wholes that in turn, as distributed wholes, could influence their components: interlevel causality between parts and wholes. …

… But by following Aristotle in rejecting this possibility, philosophy closed off any avenue for explaining action in that fashion.

Whether in dualist or materialist guise, and suitably identified as an intention, volition, want-and-belief complex, and the like, cause of action, following Aristotle, have been assumed to be events entirely inside the agent but other than the behaviour itself.

A worldview with a strobelike understanding of time (as well as a gunshot view of cause) has no way of determining when “now” ends and “then” begins.

A theory claiming that action is behaviour caused in a particular manner requires a concept of cause that not only triggers but also structures and sustains behaviour in an ongoing fashion. But none is forthcoming in contemporary philosophy.

Action theory uncritically adopted the standard billiard ball model of Newtonian science: one particle bumps into a second, which it activates even as it disengages.

There is a much closer connection between whatever originates action and the action itself than between billiard balls.

That closeness serves as the ground for appropriateness of certain behaviour given an agent’s reasons or intentions. The closeness is reflected in the description of an intention as the intention-to-do-x.

But advocates of traditional causal relations balked at all this talk because it appears to violate the required separation between cause and effect, a dogma that remains unquestioned, as does the dogma that all cause is efficient cause.

If practical reasoning is unavoidably temporal and contextual, deduction from abstract universals, or even inference from probabilistic laws, is out of the question either as a way of predicting what action someone will perform next or of explaining what he or she did.

Renaissance thinkers like Montaigne acknowledged that universal, foundational principles cannot be applied to such practical matters as law, medicine and ethics; the role that context and history play in those areas prevents it.

How explaining an event came to be identified with predicting it and with that the separation of the hard and soft sciences.

To claim that certain social, empirically determinable conditions, followed by a certain behavior, constitute action is plausible only on the condition that the agent is aware of the meaningful import of the situation [point made via a fascinating little story].

Action is lawful, and the laws to which it conforms refer to social patterns, standards, and conventions. Our explanations and predictions presuppose this.

A rule-following model of explanation is therefore unlike a mechanical model. Behavior can be explained as action only if set in the context of socially delineated means-ends conventions.

The problem of action is not only a problem of explanation; it is primarily an ontological matter. It is not a matter just of how or why we come to see behavior as action; it is a matter of what makes some behavior action.

Goal directedness is not a generalized tending toward an end state.

There is no tidy, linear pairing of causes and effects in human action as there is in the realm of classical mechanics. Despite conditions a, h, and c, people inevitably surprise us by doing the unexpected – not the expected x, y, or z.

Whenever circumstances a, h, and c exist, behavior x, y, and z will be performed, unless 1, 2, 3, . . ., n, with every “unless” qualification that counterfactually affects the entailment fully spelled out.

However, since human beings are complex dynamical systems, this is a hopeless dream.

Behaviorist theories attempted, unsuccessfully, to reduce the appropriateness and fittingness characteristic of action to various stimulus-response patterns, including plasticity around a goal object.

Act-tokens must be explained by referring to the agent’s purposes and ends, and, to the appropriateness of the behavior given those purposes and ends. …

This directed flow of events contrasts with the in-principle reversibility of Hume and Newton’s accounts of causality, according to which it is possible for any sequence of events to go backward as well as forward. …

In mechanics, event a could be followed by event b as well as vice versa. According to Hume, since one experiences no necessitating, directed force between two events, their order, too, is also in principle reversible. …

In the case of action, on the other hand, the very concepts of intention, disposition, agents, reasons, and the like have a built-in one-wayness: they imply that these concepts issue in behavior, not vice versa. Not all one way behavior is purposive, to be sure.

Pendula tend toward a resting state, and avalanches persist in reaching the valley; but although both phenomena exhibit plasticity and persistence toward an end, neither pendula nor avalanches have goals.

Although philosophers today would look askance on an appeal to final causes, any acceptable theory of action must still satisfactorily account for this apparently directed flow of information or meaning from cognitive source to behavioral terminus.

We do not appeal to mental states to explain the incredible complexity of behavioral patterns that one has (antecedently) recognized. …

On the contrary, we come to believe that there is a “complexity” to be resolved in the behavioral manifestations because we already suspect that there is (or might be) a difference in the agent’s motivation, that is, in the agent’s mental life.

Behaviorist accounts [of action] attempted to reduce intelligent action to persistent yet plastic behavioral patterns. In analyzing away the concept of goalhood, behaviorists tried to bypass such ghostly and private notions as having a goal, awareness, and intention.

One positive contribution of behaviorism that is rarely remarked on: behaviorism resuscitated the role that the environment plays in action.

Contextual embeddedness had been an important component in Aristotle’s understanding of action, but was discarded by modern philosophy’s emphasis on primary qualities as the only reality.

By suggesting that behavior is somehow connected to and dependent on events in the environment, behaviorism clearly emphasized the role that context plays in the life of organisms.

… But bringing context back into the picture as behaviorists attempted requires a type of cause much different from the collision-like trigger of mechanics.

Lacking such an understanding of cause, and reinforced in their Aristotelian conviction that causes are external to their effects, logical behaviorists never quite embedded the agent in the environment to create an integral organism-context system.

They just plunked the organism in the environment and assumed that when the appropriate stimulus occurred, boom! the organism would automatically respond.

With the Humean view of explanation as deduction firmly entrenched, “if not predictable not explained ” remains the reigning standard to which all disciplines aspire.

Several decades after the heyday of behaviorism but with no strict covering law (not even a probabilistic one) capturing regularities between empirical circumstances & human behavior on the horizon, the conclusion appeared inescapable: “Human behavior is inexplicable.”

But recent research in nonlinear dynamical systems suggests, on the contrary, that if organisms are more like tornadoes or even “chaotic” systems than like glass or planets, behaviorism’s ideal was doomed from the start.

… The reason is that in open systems that exchange matter and energy with their environment, feedback embeds them in that environment in such a way that they are simultaneously context-dependent and initiators of behavior. As a result, their trajectories are unique.

Basic assumptions on which the modern scientific worldview was based came under attack over time. In the nineteenth century alone, two challenges appeared to that conceptual framework: thermodynamics and evolutionary theory.

Thermodynamic systems can use energy only when “the arrangement of energy is to some extent ‘orderly’: higher temperature here, lower temperature there, and a clearly marked contrast between the two”.

The first law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in the universe is conserved. The second states that, over time, the disorderly arrangement of energy, entropy, inexorably increases, and the orderly, usable arrangement of energy decreases.

… energy potential, that is, by the uniformization of the universe’s arrangement of energy. This equilibrium state constitutes the heat death of the universe.

The inexorable increase of unusable energy (entropy) postulated by classical thermodynamics provided a criterion for differentiating past from present and future.

Measuring the change in the amount of entropy tells you the sequence in which events happen: the state with less entropy comes first, the one with more entropy next, the one with total entropy last.

In contrast to Newtons time-neutral equations, thermodynamics therefore appeared to return irreversibility and temporal direction to science, vindicating the intuition that whereas you can go from an egg to an omelette, the reverse is impossible.

In the end, thermodynamics teaches, you can’t put Humpty back together again.

However, as Boltzmann (1877) argued that the one-wayness pertains only to macroscopic, statistically averaged-out systems; at the atomic level events remain neatly, time reversibly Newtonian.

The arrow of time thus applies only to the law of large numbers; at the microscopic atomic level, ultimate reality remains properly timeless.

The specific location and circumstances from which a system started out, and the particular path it has traversed to date, are irrelevant; whatever its origin, the system will eventually reach equilibrium.

Thermodynamic systems near equilibrium are therefore insensitive to initial conditions. Their past does not affect either their present or their future.

Both classical mechanics and thermodynamics, however, agreed on the deterministic and “machinelike” quality of the universe; they disagreed only on whether motions are reversible.

19th-c thermodynamics deals only with systems as if they were closed and isolated from their environmental context ignoring the relational, secondary qualities – properties that appear in virtue of an object’s interactions with its surroundings and its past.

In a blow to Plato, not to mention religious fundamentalism, Darwin undermined the idea that essences exist that universally and eternally mark off this kind of organism from that. Natural kinds are not eternal; species evolve over time.

Darwin’s writings returned context to science for the first time in centuries. The specific ecological niche in which an organism is embedded matters greatly, since it determines which organisms live and get to reproduce and which do not.

Because organisms are more or less fit relative to the particular environmental niche in which they are located, fitness is therefore a relational property, not a primary one like mass.

And yet much of the flavor of Newtonian mechanics continued to permeate the theory of evolution (Depew and Weber 1995), particularly in the way Darwin understood explanation.

The radical change from Aristotle to Darwin was the recognition that, through the environment’s selective pressure on reproductive success, unpredictable, truly novel phenotypic features could be passed on to future generation.

Open systems far from equilibrium show a reduction in local or internal entropy; they are able, in other words, to create form and order.

General systems theory was first articulated by organismic biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1981) as a counterpoint to classical science’s mechanistic understanding of human beings and nature.

[General systems theory]’s fundamental claim is that when living things are embedded in a orderly context, properties emerge that are not present when the things exist as isolated individuals.

Picking up where Darwin left off, systems theory continued the revival of relational or secondary properties by reminding us that context matters. But it does so very differently than behaviorism.

Together, the internal and external structure constitute the system’s total structure. A system with no external structure – no environment with which it interacts – is a closed and isolated system. Only the entire universe is closed and isolated.

A system’s functional efficiency is often related to its integration. The system is called stable if it returns to or fluctuates minimally around a constant value.

For the most part, the more flexible the coupling between the subsystems, the greater the overall system’s stability.

Resilience is “the ability of the system to absorb changes … and still persist” (Holling 1976). A system can be quite resilient yet unstable if it persists as that (kind of) system despite wide fluctuations.

Resilient systems are able to modify their specific structure so as to ensure the adaptability and survival of their overall organization. Insects and viruses are remarkably resilient: they can mutate dramatically and so persist.

Complex systems are usually more resilient than simple ones, with complex open systems that interact with their environment exhibiting the highest degree of resilience.

As anyone who has tried to rid his house of cockroaches can confirm, evolution generally favors resilience, not stability.

Because their organization is given “from the outside,” machines are allopoietic. Living organisms, on the other hand, self-assemble, and as such are examples of autopoietic (self-organizing) systems.

Allopoiesis versus Autopoiesis:

Thermostats do not self-organize.

No closed system near equilibrium ever becomes more complex or ordered.

But even crystallization is an order-producing process. And living things, unlike crystals, are not “frozen accidents.” They are dynamical, adaptive, and evolving beings that interact with their environment through exchanges of matter and energy.

As we climb the developmental & phylogenetic ladders, organisms grow & species become increasingly complex, one mark of which is their ability to access a greater variety of states and behaviors. People can blink but amoebas can’t; grown-ups can wink but newborns can’t.

The human sciences have often been tempted to model their subject matter after the (idealized) linear, closed systems near equilibrium that the hard sciences studied and that, for those very reasons, were tractable and in consequence produced spectacular results.

I take it as self-evident today that human beings are neither linear, closed, nor near equilibrium, nor likely to be understood by models with these assumptions.

People are neither isolated from their surroundings nor simply dropped into an environment that pushes them hither and yon. On the contrary, they are embedded in their environment, which they in turn influence.

Self-organizing systems that reorganize by altering their control parameters themselves are truly autopoietic.

In virtue of its own internal dynamics, self-organization spawns even higher levels of self-organization and the system as a whole evolves.

A system emerges when previously uncorrelated particles or processes suddenly become coordinated and interconnected.

The conceptual framework of the theory of self-organizing dynamical systems has significant implications for the philosophical concepts of identity, teleology, cause, and explanation.

… after the phase change one finds an orderly arrangement of particles or processes: a system.

Because each of the processes that define an autopoietic system requires the others, the system must be studied as a whole, as the coordination of several process, that is, as a network of activity and relationships.

Isolating each of the processes and attempting to reduce the whole to its components (as atomism tried to do) produces “nothing more than that: a series of snapshots”.

As a dynamic system, therefore, an autopoietic system’s identity is given by the coordinated organization of the processes that make it up, not the primary material of its components.

The system as a whole, to repeat, is not just a passive pass-through for energy exchanges.

A component that may be fit in one context may not be in another; a structure that may be fit in one context or at one time may not be in another.

Far from being a primary quality, therefore, fitness is a multiply realizable property (Depew and Weber) that depends on what occurs elsewhere and previously.

To maintain itself as itself, an autocatalytic web functions as an “attractor”: a rudimentary precursor of final cause.

… It would be anthropomorphic to call this vectorial characteristic of autocatalytic structures “goal-intended” or “purposive”; it would be even more absurd to say that these dissipative structures act as they do “for a reason.”

The dynamic interaction between self-organizing systems and the contingencies of their environment, on the other hand, allows us to understand how both individuation and true evolution (not just development) are possible.

Insect colonies are an example self-organizing systems whose complexity “permits the division of functions, particularly the division of labor, as well as hierarchical relationships and mechanisms of population control” (Jantsch).

The evolutionary advantage of such systematic hierarchical differentiation is that the whole can access states that the independent parts cannot. The overall hive can do much more than the individual bee. The price is that workers in a hive lose the ability to reproduce

Dissipative structures thus operate on two levels simultaneously: part and whole, which interact in the manner of Douglas Hofstadter’s “strange loops,” or Kant’s “unknown causality.” In Chuck Dyke’s great phrase, they arestructured structuring structures.”

… concrete things over processes and relations, substances over properties.

Complex adaptive systems exhibit true self-cause: parts interact to produce novel, emergent wholes; in turn, these distributed wholes as wholes regulate and constrain the parts that make them up.

According to nonlinear, far-from equilibrium science (and without appealing to any mysterious elan vital), systems are created from interacting components, which they then, in turn, control.

As a result of this strange loop relationship between parts and wholes, these dynamical systems are not mere epiphenomena; they actively exercise causal power over their components.

Dissipative structures are not mechanical processes; in autocatalysis no one molecule pushes the others around. Neither does anyone of the brain’s neurons.

The central nervous system has no localized grandmother control unit that, in the manner of a Newtonian force, activates others by bumping into them.

The concept of constraint was first used formally in physical mechanics to describe the way the motion of a simple pendulum or a particle on an inclined plane is “compelled by the “geometry of its environment to move on some specified curve or surface”.

Constraints are relational properties that parts acquire in virtue of being unified – not just aggregated – into a systematic whole.

Limiting or closing off alternatives is the most common understanding of the term “constraint.” But if all constraints restricted a thing’s degrees of freedom in this way, organisms (whether phylogenetically or developmentally) would progressively do less and less.

… However, precisely the opposite is empirically observed. Some constraints must therefore not only reduce the number of alternatives: they must simultaneously create new possibilities.

According to information theory constraints are identified not as in physical mechanics, with physical connections, but with rules for reducing randomness in order to minimize noise and equivocation.

In a situation of complete randomness where alternatives are equiprobable you could say anything but in fact do say nothing. It is true that in situations in which all alternatives are equally likely, potential information or message variety is at its maximum.

At equilibrium, message variety is a great but idle potential; actual information is zero. “Capacity is of no value if it cannot be utilized ” (Gatlin 1972).

Without contrasts there can be no message; television snow is as meaningless as white noise. Transmitting or receiving a message requires a clear demarcation between message and background noise.

Whether in communications or genetics, actual information content – a difference that makes a difference – requires an ordering process that harnesses the randomness.

Constraints turn the amorphous potential into the definite actual: following Aristotle, constraints effect change.

Constraints alter the probability distribution of the available alternatives. They make a system diverge from chance, randomness, or equiprobability. Lila Gatlin calls constraints that function in this manner context – free.

Once the probability that something will happen depends on and is altered by the presence of something else, the two have become systematically and therefore internally related.

Because dissipative structures are not just dropped into either time or space the way Newtonian atoms with only primary qualities are, their evolutionary trajectory is therefore not predictable in detail.

… As a result, unlike the near-equilibrium processes of traditional thermodynamics, complex systems do not forget their initial conditions: they “carry their history on their backs” (Prigogine). Their origin constrains their trajectory.

Those aspects of the environment with which I am systematically interdependent are part of my external structure. As both a biological and social entity, I extend into the world and am embedded in it (the point that both logical and experimental behaviorism missed).

As distributed wholes, complex adaptive systems are virtual governors that give orders to themselves – qua thing, not qua other.

The constraints that wholes impose on their parts are restrictive insofar as they reduce the number of ways in which the parts can be arranged, and conservative in the sense that they are in the service of the whole.

Attractors represent a dynamical system’s organization, including its external structure or boundary conditions.

Attractors provide evidence that the system’s overall organization constrains available alternatives (Brooks and Wiley) such that its behavior is characteristically drawn to certain patterns.

Complex dynamical systems like you and me, however, have an indefinitely large number of properties. Representing each by an axis in state space requires an unvisualizable graph with an astronomical number of dimensions.

Complex systems are often characterized by strange attractors. The strange attractors of seemingly “chaotic” phenomena are therefore often not chaotic at all. Such intricate behaviour patterns are evidence of highly complex, context-dependent dynamic organization.

If a system accessed every point or region in its phase space with the same frequency as every other (that is, randomly), its ontogenetic landscape would be smooth and flat.

A completely flat, smooth initial landscape would portray an object with no propensities or dispositions – that is, with no attractors. It would describe a “system” with no identity, a logical impossibility.

The effects of constraints can therefore be represented as a probability landscape like

Since a system’s external structure can recalibrate its internal dynamics, probability landscapes also incorporate the role of the environment in which a system is embedded.

Since a system’s prior experience constrains its behavior, that history, too, is embodied in its ontogenetic landscape.

The landscape of a dynamical system, by definition, is never static. Although it remains qualitatively the same between phase changes, it continually shifts in response to the system’s interactions with its environment.

When dramatic phase changes occur, the whole attractor regime completely reorganizes as the system undergoes a bifurcation.

Contour of the entire landscape reconfigures in a phase-change bifurcation. The metamorphoses of tadpoles into frogs or caterpillars into butterflies mark such a qualitative transition.

Generative organizing is simultaneously time and context-dependent. There is a built-in one-wayness. The organizing is embedded in an environment, which it in turn influences. The precise path the organizing will take is unpredictable.

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