wk4 reading response

The Web of Life– Fritjof Capra

I found interesting in general this historical timeline of the development of systems theory, the shift from Cartesian to networked thinking, and the players involved in the movement particularly between the 1940’s-1960’s, that Capra presents.  It made sense to see this development over time.  The thoughts put forward by scientists from different disciplines beings to uncover how each field is appropriating what others have learned.  Additionally, scientists are able to communicate across fields given this systems language that transcends disciplinary boundaries and describes the drivers for all life (life is adaptive and evolutionary, life is complex, life is dynamic, life learns, life regenerates and is self-organizing).  There is a whole shift in thinking that goes along with this notion- one that incorporates a shift from parts to whole, from mechanistic to networks, from static to dynamic, and an understanding that patterns can be seen across multiple scales, which is to say there exists a new focus on relationships and not objects.  Systems-thinking is highly contextual and embraces its subjective nature.  In this way, it breaks the mold of the old scientific method, which tries to be completely objective.  Armed with this new lens through which to view the world, the best we can do to understand it is only to come close to approximations of how it works.

“Science advances through tentative answers to a series of more and more subtle questions which reach deeper and deeper into the essence of natural phenomena” (Louis Pasteur).

All of this said, I am left with two questions.  The first is, accepting the notion that this new way of thinking can lead us to a more holistic understanding of life (and therefore promote human welfare and life in general), how can this systems thinking be applied within the field of architecture?  “…understanding the pattern of self-organization is the key to understanding the essential nature of life” (Capra, 26).  For me, this is still an unanswered question.  Architecture, in part, already does this intrinsically by dealing with complex programs and contexts and synthesizing that information into a coherent whole.  But this abstract definition of how architecture already uses systems thinking doesn’t provide any concrete examples of how architects and designers can build for the ecology of humanity through systems theory.  One way Capra begins to address this question a little more clearly is by noting that systems-thinking is very much process oriented.  “In systems science every structure is seen as the manifestation of underlying processes” (Capra, 42).  Therefore, things should “emerge” from the processes that precede them.

The second question I have is more of a reflective critique on technology.  Capra purports that technological innovation has become synonymous with progress, and further that all forms of culture are being subordinated to technology.  I thinking about this point, I would agree that technology has made our environments somewhat ubiquitous, and therefore less humane.  But at the same time, I would argue that technology has opened up many opportunities and helped promote very rich environments that I would not trade away.  The question then, is at what point does technology become too much that is detracts from our humanity.  Or better phrased, how do we maintain active participation in a dialogue with technology so that we stay cognizant of our surroundings (physical, virtual, social, etc.) while not neglecting advances/progress in every direction, whether it be technological, spiritual, cultural, physiological.  “Information is presented as the basis of thinking, whereas in reality the human mind thinks with ideas, not with information.  As Theodore Roszak shows in detail in The Cult of Information, ‘ information does not create ideas; ideas create information.  Ideas are integrating patterns that derive not from information but from experience’” (Capra, 70).

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