Sunday, October 26, 2008

Opens Systems Theory is NOT Complexity

Why Open Systems Theory is not Complexity Science, and Differences of LInes, Cycles, Spheres, and Rhizomes

My new book, Storytelling Organizations (London: Sage 2008) is finally shipping out. Got the advance soft and hard copies, so hopefully Amazon will release it soon to the public

The book makes a case for the paradigm shift from open systems to complexity systemicity.  I base this in storytelling complexity theory which is informed by an integration of Morin's (2008, On Complexity book), and Bakhtin's (1973) work on dialogical manner of story versus the monologic aspect of narrative (a point that Derrida, 1979 makes, as well as many indigenous writers making a claim that modern systems theory in Western though has been a big detour to make native complexity thinking into linear thinking: Native Science (Cajete, 2000, Clear Light), The American Indian Mind in a Linear World (Fixico, 2003, Routledge), Sandoval's Methodology of the Oppressed (2000, University of Minnesota Press), and Mauri writer Linda Thuiaai Smith (1999/2008, University of Otago Press). 

Open Systems theory begins as part of von Bertallanfy's General Systems Thinking, as a way to make the metabolism of the cell in biology the 2nd cybernetics (1st cybernetics being Thermodynamics-control systems thinking in mechanistic and social engineering theory).  Open Systems theory is picked up by Katz and Kahn in the 1960s, then popularized in work by Emery and Trist.

My living story comes into play, when I learned "beyond open systems theory' from my mentor in grad school, Louis Pondy.  He adapted Kenneth Boulding, the economists Management Science article about the 9 levels of systems thinking, from frame, control, mechanistic, open, organic, image, symbol, network to transcendental. Pondy changed the labels, and omitted the transcendental.  

In my book I disabuse myself of levels-of-systems, as a trap of linear (hierarchical) thinking. I trace the linear thinking in Polanyi's theory of emergence (and its reassertion of Plato reincarnation, among several other definitions), and I take on Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as yet another version of the level-of-systems hierarchical-linear theorizing.

So what I think has happened is that narrative, in the rise and fall of modernity (which refuses to exit the stage) has embedded the Aristotle coherence, linear plot of beginning, middle, end, which I nickname BME narrative.  Level-by-level Pondy, Boulding, Polanyi, & Pirsig are examples of linear modeling, so prevalent in modernity (defined as functionalism, systems thinking, structuralism, & pragmatism) [see book by Hanno Hardt, 1992 - Critical Communication STudies: Communication, History & Theory in America -- Routledge). He traces the Critical Theory of Frankfurt school in its opposition the the systems-modernity functionalism, structuralism, and pragmatism), and Habermas' conversion to Parsonian structural functionalism.

So if you have not fallen asleep, the point is that Western social science in general, and Western narrative, in particular, has succumb to the linear modeling paradigm (See Abbott's article "Transcending general linear reality" Sociological Theory journal, 1988). 

I am starting to develop a way to talk about it.  Let us go back now to Morin's complexity and Bakhtin's dialogism, and the indigenous views of storytelling as complexity thinking in a linear world.  

Students in my small business consulting class and my complexity systems class trying to sort out what is the difference between linear and non-linear antenarrative.  Antenarrative is defined by me in 2001 book (Narrative Methods... Sage) as a bet on the future, and a before narrative ossification sets in.  The theory I am developing now is that Storytelling is an interplay of linear narratives that are retrospective, living story relations that are now-spective (a term one of my students, Diane Walker made up), and antenarratives that are prospective (future-directed) sensemaking.   The 2008 Storytelling Organizations book explores the interplay of the three types of sensemaking in relation to really getting beyond open systems flat-land and really doing complexity storytelling that is what I call holographic. 

Both Morin and Bakhtin refer to 'dialogism.' Morin defines it without storytelling as interplay of order and disorder (not much different than open systems theory, in general.  Bakhtin defines dialogism a polyphony of voices, a multi-stylistic of oral written and architectural styles, a multi-chronotopicity (of time-space conceptions), and as an architectonic interanimation of discourses (cognitive, aesthetic, & ethical).   I work out each of the four dialogisms  (plus one more) in the new book in terms of Mintzberg's 10 schools of strategy.

A second point of connection of Bakhtin and Morin, is holography. For Bakhtin there are multiple voices, styles, chronotopes, architectonic discourses, but these are not arranged level-by-level as in the linear projects of Pondy, Boulding, Polanyi, & Persig.  Rather the conceptions can free associate in no particular order and without hierarchy-linear. Open systems thinking is linear in that it always tries to succeed control, mechanistic, frame thinking. For Boulding and for Pondy open systems thinking fails to deal with language (image & symbol, styles & chronotopes), or with discourse (architectonics) and in von Bertalanffy is specifically forbidden to deal with the transcendental.  The entire Enlightenment project of Modernity systems is an erasure of transcendental.  The level-by-level linear thinking is old school open systems theorizing.  

Holographic is complexity thinking.  Native cultures as Fixico (2003) reminds us thought in spheres, not in lines, and as all the writing on Medicine Wheels asserts, thought in terms of cycles that were temporal-spatial, and transcendental.

Today in my morning notebooking I tried to do holographic approach to thinking.  In holographs there is a refraction of one to quite a few dimensions

ONE DIMENSIONAL THINKING -  This is reduction of everything to one dimension.  A good example is the new 'positive science' movement in appreciative inquiry, where only the positive stories are elicited, only the positive stories get collected, only the positive stories get put out as a linear antenarrative of the future.  For Herbert Marcuse (1964) this is the definition of One-Dimensional Man, the person who can only think one-dimensionally, or as Rorty 1985: 175) puts it without the pragmatic distinction Dewey calls "the meaning of the daily detail."  I interpret this to mean that there is no living story noticing of anything but the positive, and no narrative retrospection of anything contrary to official managerial history, and no antenarrative that is not a linear progress to a positive future.

TWO DIMENSIONAL THINKING - Two dimensional is flat-land thinking, and has the positive and the negative narratives (in dialectic, or dualistic opposition), living stories and linear antenarratives. Two dimension is taxonomic (there are so many taxonomies, some etic, others emic) and positivistic (in the empiricism sense of method that is decidedly ahistorical, but willing to do linear regression and path analysis).   If you think of static cognitive maps, or networks that are static maps, you get an image of two-dimensional thinking that is a reduction of history to a line, or just plain ahistorical, cross-sectional positivism, trying to develop universal constructs.  A good deal of so-called 'social construction' theory, that moves away from a concept of reification of subjective into objectified maps, is two-dimensional. The maps by Pondy, Boulding, as well as Pirsig and Polanyi are two-dimensional, without complexity dynamics.  Steven DeGiulio says a line connects poionts "A line is an abstract mathematical concept with no physical correlate--linear anything is related to a desire to control--a desire that is born of fear (ultimately fear of time, that is, death)--control is approachable only through violence and is never achievable. Thus "go with the flow" is not good advice, it is the only possibility--neurosis is to deny and fight this. (Neurosis seems to constitute 90% or so of our sorry present globalized civilization and its miseries.)"

THREE DIMENSIONAL THINKING - We finally that a theory of emergence that is historical in the genealogical sense, an unfoldment in Bakhtin's (1993, Philosophy of the Act) that living story answerability in the moment of Being-ness, and kinds of antenarratives that are cycles not lines, and rhizomatics (Deleuze  Guattari, 1987).  We have a kind of genealogical tracing (Nietzsche/Heidegger) that is not your ordinary writing of history of the victors and sword holders.  We have a theory of social change that comes out of complexity science.  Living stories now have engagement, in that people tell a story, but must tell another one, and a web of them to cover their relational engagement with some many social groups (family, workers, spiritual, etc). The living story web is more anthropological, more ethnographic, not a positivistic or positive science.

FOUR DIMENSIONAL THINKING - I've only seen Diane Walker and Steve King attempt such a feat. For Diane its a matter of an ethnomathematics, to see the kinds of storytelling one glimpses in the Marshal Islands (stick charts), Andean accounting, or Kolam storytelling (see images at  or 

Ehtnomathematics "The mathematics which is practiced among identifiable cultural groups such as national-tribe societies, labour groups, children of certain age brackets and professional classes" (D‘Ambrosio, 1985).  

What follows is on-going dialogic between myself and several colleagues:

For Diane Walker storytelling is a Tesseract - 4-dimension cube within a cube.    Here is a visual of the morphing that occurs in the 4h dimension   Walker (2008, class presentation) proposes "a model for how schools can move from linear narratives to tesseract antenarratives for holistic critical literacy."

For Steve King and I, the holograph is something we call 'Story Dome"  We are looking at how over-arching narratives (such as Declaration of Independence) contain living story unfoldment, and antenarrative bets on the future.  Whereas Lyotard (1984) would dismiss all grand narrative, some quire important to retain in their overarching position.  

For Steve DeGiuiio "Polphonic storying is sense making in balance with the awareness that we really can't make sense of anything, ever. Sense making is not understanding, which is impossible, it is the (joint) creation of-- "peldaƱos de la consciencia" --stepping stones through complexity and chaos. Stepping stones/stories/antenarratives/master narratives crashing apart/gossip/white lies/party lines/attitudes/jokes, etc, that dissolve in the telling but that can keep us right here enmeshed in reality/actualaity from moment to moment in a way that is nothing like linear, not even in temporal terms. (Cue up Bob Dylan: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now")."

N-DIMENSIONAL THINKING - A sphere in native cosmology is 360 degrees, with the person extended in all directions. For me, there is a reclaiming of metaphysics from its severe truncation by Kant (Critique of Pure Reason, where systems are defined as a cognitive architectonic frame in next to last section of the book), banishment of spiritual by Modernity's Enlightenment Project, the Neitzsche declaration, "God is Dead" (Gay Science book), and Pondy who edits Boulding's open systems theory listing to erase it.   But here I think that work by postcolonial writers is quite helpful.  Sandoval, for example, takes Jameson to task for turning postmodern cultural theory into a neocolonial globalizing metaphysics. Heidegger thinks modernity turned technology into a metaphysics. Everyone thinks Descartes turned mind-body dualism into a metaphysics.  And lots of us in the spirituality movement wonder if spiritual metaphysics can return with less religiosity to be a mean-giving dimension.  This brings me full circle to the indigenous and Native peoples scholars who engaged in spherical thinking had a way to leave the Red Line of the Physical (a line South to North), and move about the rim of life and enter the spiritual Blue Road (through the Golden Door of the East, to the West fire element, and all about the sphere.  Here is my own presentation - on this

Rhizomes - seem to eat across dimensions.

Joe Gladsone says, " I am interpreting multi-linearity as antenarratives spreading out in all

directions from their origin, then yes, as I see it, that is the case.  I
can see it as a form of "carpet-bombing."  That is, multiple wide-area
efforts to suppress other narratives.  Again, this occurs on two planes,
above and below the surface.  One thing that I think of when I think of
rhizome antenarratives is that rhizomes not only spread outward, but they
also interlock, thus increasing their resistive (suppressive) strength."

Michael Turner says "For what is worth. I am finding abstraction easier if I think of paths. If these paths are free (and I believe they are) of planar restriction, then the paths could proceed in any dimension."

Claudia Gomez says, "The way I understand it is that Linear ante-narrative is planning for a begining middle and end for the future, giving structure and rigidness. Rhizome like ant-narrative, you do no give an end to the future, you hold the conclusion, this way, new stories that emerge are allowed, are not restricted and your allow yourself (or the organization, or whatever you are applying this to) to take new directions that you might have missed or supressed if the ante-narrative was linear. Thats my take on it, but I am not sure If I am correct (or even close!)"

Wikipedia needs some updating on the following pages

Why not put you fun ideas there

Let's treat open systems theory as Two Dimensional, and move on to Third and Fourth Dimensions, and then to Rhizomes.

All the best



Steve said...

Dr B wrote:

It seems to me that most of your significant problems are n-dimensional, not one or two or three dimensional. As they become holographic the complexity of it is staggering.

I think we feel intuitively that there is -something missing- from the everyday 3/4 D Newtonian perspective of discreet objects in empty space on a linear timeline..

..our ideas about dimensional objects, holographs, waves, etc. are perhaps an attempt to get at this -missing stuff- of existence .. ie, a more continuous, non-linear and reflexively multi-layered sort of awareness now understands that natural and biological structures are largely fractal… human bodies, coastlines, markets, weather, molecules, etc.. I recently read something by a noted physicist who said that its not possible to fully represent a fractal on paper.. neither can our best non-linear computer modeling tools even if they do extend to a very high number of dimensions.. .. and our traditional subject-predicate Aristotelian A=B linguistic approaches are woefully inadequate of course..

.. but perhaps , using n-dimensional holographic antenarrative linguistic vehicles.. we can achieve some connection with higher dimension fractal realities.. (which is perhaps best attempted by trading story fragments around the tribal campfire where there is no paper or computers allowed :)


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