Monthly Archives: June 2018

Generally True Patterns #20

South slope of Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

South slope of Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing  Ourselves as a Part of Nature




Part 20 of 22


Chapter 7 Part III Loss (environmentalism) 

The long series of defeats for the environmentalist cause stems from accepting a debate based on loss-thinking. By altering our perception from one of loss to one of increasing inclusion, the acceptance of a person/nature connection gathers meaning. In loss terms, the environment is reduced to a commodity, sets of objects with economic value, at risk of being too valuable to keep, too worthless to keep, or priced just right to exploit, consume, or transform into something else. The desperate truth about environmental preservation is that each time we lose anything from a wild place to a baobab tree, it is lost forever; each time we preserve a place, it is temporary, its security no better than our willingness to fight the next assault. All acts of preservation are at risk of loss; all wild things lost are gone irreversibly. In every instance of deciding to preserve or deciding to destroy, change comes to the larger system with attendant consequences. Acts which lead to the preservation or destruction of relationships with nature, with the economy, with our organizations and associations, with one another, are examples of specific separateness within the social realm and part of the generally true pattern that actions have consequences.

By often choosing to fight their battles on the loss-dimension of economic turf, environmentalists continue to lose literal ground. Managerial/bureaucratic environmentalism with its cost-benefit analysis reduces environmental issues to statistics for both the forces of preservation and the forces of destruction. Loss measurement is found in environmental impact statements, calculations of visitor days, motel and campground occupancy rates, and camping equipment sales. To fund their activities, some environmental preservation organizations push sales of outdoor clothing, camping supplies, and eco-tourism sending the inadvertent or advertent message that the consumers’ environment has become more important than the natural environment.

When government agencies plan the future of wilderness areas under mandates with titles such as “Limits of Acceptable Change,” accepted is the thesis that deliberate damage will be done to the “resource.” It begs the question of acceptable to whom or acceptable to what? What level of ski run length, width, and slope is acceptable to the riparian habitat below from the standpoint of the habitat itself? By removing meaning from the environmental debate and instead arguing over the usefulness of resources, both environmentalists and their opponents have contrived nature as an objectified and materialistic thing which can (and must) be exploited. Beauty itself can be a commodity. Environmental organizations sometimes trade less valuable lands for more valuable lands. This implies that some lands are non-valuable enough that they can be trashed in favor of higher standard property (usually, more “beautiful” land). Increasing exclusion is a political necessity when we accept loss as the measure of the person/nature split.

Academics have too often separated the physical consequences of climate change and mass species extinction from the moral consequences, hiding behind the call for ever more data collection before taking a position. Observational naturalists (Ernest Thompson Seton, John Muir, and their literary descendants such as Edward Abbey) have taken a more courageous stand, emphasizing the moral lessons to be learned from nature and our relationship to the natural world. The supposed dispassionate neutrality of the quantification and analysis data collectors is not neutral at all since not taking a stand always supports someone’s position. At the very least, as Sir Thomas Moore reputedly said, silence is consent.

An attitude of respect and reverence for the wild and natural is held as politically and economically aberrant in a civilization that favors exclusion over inclusion. Critics of environmentalism claim that it looks exclusively to the past, or more precisely, to the imagined idyllic conditions of the past at the expense of current prosperity. Actually, the philosophy of inclusion looks ahead by considering how current behaviors impact future outcomes. When we accept that what we do has consequences, then responsibility for those outcomes must be borne by governments, corporations, and most importantly, individuals. We can destroy that which we pretend to perceive as separate from ourselves, but upon rational acceptance of the person/nature connection (as demonstrated by generally true patterns) destroying the world we know for short term economic gain (only for the few) is the height of madness.

Those who perpetrate destruction, or who passively support it, drink the same water and breathe the same air. Two of our greatest observers of nature, the painter Thomas Cole and the writer James Fenimore Cooper, thought extensively about both connection and loss. In The Last of the Mohicans, the White frontiersman Hawk-eye, who reveres nature as much as the Indians with whom he lives and whose ways he has adopted as his own, observes, “Nature is sadly abused by man, when he once gets the mastery.” His antagonist, Maqua, the Indian who has adapted the worse lessons of European savagery and betrayal into his own bleak heart, says of the alien culture, “His gluttony makes him sick. God gave him enough, and yet he wants all. Such are the pale faces.” These are the finest literary statements of disconnection from nature.

In his paintings, Cole showed the Whites clearly as visitors to the edge of the wilderness where they stand out in their clothing, their tools and their homesteads, seemingly tenuous, but actually irresistible to the wild-nature they conquer. His Indians on the other hand, blend in to their wild surroundings as part of a larger visual pattern. Cooper and Cole were contemporaries living at a time when the rise of the American empire and the dominance of technology over wild-nature began to appear inevitable. The disconnection from nature that concerned both Cooper and Cole has continued as a theme for creative thinkers from later 19th century writers like Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville to contemporary science writers like Rachel Carson and Edwin O. Wilson.

In our time it is the dominance of wild-nature over technology that is inevitable. The wild-nature that we most cherish, that of tigers and untrammeled wilderness may not survive our onslaught, but bacterium, viruses, and larger small things will thrive endlessly. A future based on conscious loss is just that, a chosen direction on a small-minded path, not an inevitable one. There is an alternative: we could subject the decisions we make to the laws of nature in such a way that we live and thrive in accordance with this larger path. This mostly has to do with how we organize how we think and how we use language to express those thoughts. Knowledge arranged according to increasing inclusion rather than increasing exclusion leads us to a different place.

A final thought about loss: At least from the turn of this century, the state of Alaska has seen exceptional shifts in its climate as permafrost melts and fires ravage the land. A news report I heard about that state raised more questions than it answered: “In Alaska, which has been hard hit by wildfires, over two million acres of land have been lost.” Did that land really go somewhere, misplaced and beyond our finding? Or was the news report unconsciously making a deeper point? With the burning of ancient forests, an ancestral touchstone to our own distant past diminishes. The loss was not one of land, but one of meaning.

There really is no cure for a broken heart.

Next essay: Chapter 8 Inclusion





Generally True Patterns #19

Snow Ball Saxifrage, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Snow Ball Saxifrage, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A  New  Natural  History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature




Part 19 of 22


Chapter 7 Part II Loss (tiger)

An economy and a politics based on loss rather than on pattern recognition is one that leads to impoverishment on multiple levels, devaluing biological diversity and the health of all living beings. In pursuing a public policy of conscious loss-generation—for instance warfare and genocide against other humans and other species—we might ask what generally true patterns support such activity. If we view the entirety as one of increasing inclusion, then we must reject loss as the means to achieving that end. As an example of this, we might subject a simple question to analysis both from the perspective of loss and the perspective of pattern recognition.

What good is the tiger?

The disappearance of the tiger from wild-nature has been proposed by environmentalist Neil Evernden as a metaphor for larger environmental crises. The aesthetic of natural fierceness—power and speed (velocity) combined with the beauty of the animal itself in relation with wilderness (position)—is suggestive of large meanings about freedom, life, death, and change. Meanings include the importance of the tiger to itself and its surroundings, and its symbolic meaning to us as interpreters: the qualified tiger. This tiger, the one facing certain extirpation from the wild finds itself in trouble because its meaning has been removed. There are those who like tigers (or the idea of tigers somewhere else), or who do not actively oppose them, but who discount tiger meaning through economic analysis. The measurable economic usefulness of tigers is primarily limited to illegal trafficking of its components: hides, claws, captivity-amusement value of live specimens. But this business is one without a future with the coming end of the tiger resource. It therefore can be argued that working for the continuance of the tiger based on economic grounds is nonsensical.

Favoring tigers based on ecological arguments is not much stronger. In the past, predator-prey relationships in which tigers were the fiercer part made sense in intact biological systems. Man-eating tigers scare people out of Mangrove swamps, saving those areas. Currently, so few tigers survive that a few less, or none, will likely not importantly disrupt natural systems that have already been disrupted anyway and may be washed away by rising sea levels. Holding on to wild tigers for their scientific value as dissertation subjects is of no help either. Value assignment as study object will do little to aid the tiger relationships of the plants and animals with which it is associated; they will all be equally swept away by the human tide. We also place aesthetic value on the tiger—it is beautiful and wild. But aesthetics no more than economics, ecological, or scientific value will save the tiger. All arguments made on any of these reasons regularly fail as preservationists look on hopelessly and helplessly, watching the tiger disappear from wild-existence.

From the perspective of pattern recognition, it may be seen that when the tiger finally goes, it will take part of us with it. There is no static constancy, only increasing or decreasing inclusion, a person/nature split or a person/nature connection. The politics and policies of loss operate at a deep level. Consciously removing individual or aggregate entities is another way of putting energy into a system and forcing it into a new form. Actions have consequences in and through time.

It is therefore not just the tiger we need to preserve, but the meaning to be derived from all the tiger relationships. An animal (including the human) is self- realized in relation to its society, and that society is realized only in interaction with its environment. Recognition of interconnectedness in the sense of tigers being an extension of us and us being an extension of them is an argument that may not win out, but one which may be more helpful to the tiger than just assigning to it an economic or scientific value. Conscious loss (removal in this case) creates instability which leads to unpredictable change. The change in the world resulting from the loss of the tiger may or may not be minor; but as a metaphor for larger environmental issues, the consequences of basing nearly all of our actions on a policy of conscious loss is monumental.

Conservationists and environmentalists, by basing their preservation arguments on the scientific, economic, and political definitions of loss, will indeed lose all they seek to preserve. The loss of the tiger and much else of wild-nature is inevitable as long as we remain on our present course. The trajectory of this debate alters only with a changing of both basic and principal definitions. The questions we need to ask, the policies we need to follow, are outside the path of loss and instead come directly from the enfolded potential of nature itself, the generally true patterns.

Next essay: Chapter 7 Part III Loss

Generally True Patterns #18

Rock Jasmine, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Rock Jasmine, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature



Part 18 of 22


Chapter 7 Part I Loss (symptoms of beauty)

My observations come out of being struck by the beauty of order characterizing nature. Describing the symptoms of beauty does not explain the essence. To find that higher level of meaning, it is necessary to go into the structure of that beauty to discover a way to provide a better explanation of what we are observing. The potential of generally true patterns represents the essence of that structure, but it is the realized specifics that drive us emotionally into finding meaning.

I am continually drawn to the high mountain arctic alpine by its challenges and promise of adventure. At the tree line ecotone, tundra above, forest below, Engelmann spruces (Picea engelmannii) can grow to nearly the normal length of their kind, but sometimes laterally along the ground rather than vertically, a pattern known as krummholz. Bristlecone pines (Pinus aristata) produce foliage less dense, but at this elevation have more massive trunks than the spruce. These gnarled ancient ones tenaciously cling to the unpromising rocky alpine slopes where even the tallest of most other plants scarcely touches the belly of a medium-sized dog. Steep slopes show soil loss from storm erosion and moisture loss from the prevailing southwest wind. Nonetheless, this land nurtures the trees into a lengthy maturity.

Most years I visit the two most imposing pine trees inhabiting a large grove sprawling down a long south-facing slope. The larger of the two lives upslope of the other, its grayed, sculptural trunk growing parallel to the ground for a distance longer than I am tall before thrusting its bulk upward in the manner more typical of trees. The skyward facing side of this trunk has lost much of its bark and in one place has been worn over time into a shallow depression, a bowl where a thin leafed bunch grass and yellow Groundsels have taken root inside what becomes a diminutive rain pool after a downpour. The two trees reach out toward each other, their branch tips just coming together so that they look like arboreal lovers holding hands. Their ample fertility is evidenced by large numbers of pinecones beneath the spread of their limbs and by the dozens of younger pines farther down. The leaves at the end of each branch are whirled into the form of bristle-brush bottle washers; to others these branches suggest foxtails and give an alternative name to the tree.

Clark’s Nutcrackers, (Nucifraga columbiana) the size of a large jay (which is more or less what it is) pass low over the trees, their flapping wings producing a breathy puffing sound, then circle back to rustle about in the upper limbs of the pines. They settle dislodged cones in the ample crook of a dead branch, then turn them over and over picking out the ripe fruit. Some of the seeds fall near where I recline on the horizontal trunk later to be washed downhill by the rains or picked up and dropped by the birds above the parent tree. One of the seeds dropped by the birds as I watch may, as a mature tree, provide good seating for a future naturalist to watch Nutcrackers crack nuts a thousand years hence.

Most of the Bristlecones on this slope are less than four hundred years old. The oldest known member of this group—still living after 4900 years—grew in Nevada until collected (killed) by a biologist for the data provided by its tree rings. It is a misguided profession that converts the living into the dead for study. I don’t know the age of my reclining tree, but until the scientists find it, it will remain one of the oldest denizens of New Mexico. Tiwa Indian hunters must have passed by this tree prior to the building of their oldest multi-story adobe buildings over nine hundred years ago in the valley below. The Nutcrackers live only a few seasons, dogs somewhat longer, humans longer still, but even if I live to be very old, it will be as nothing compared to these trees which should outlast me by several centuries if they survive climate change and are otherwise left alone.

Rarely, hikers or horse riders pass nearby on the ridge above the Bristlecone grove. They never see me. I remain hidden and motionless beside the tree, trying to become as much a part of it as possible. It is the pursuit of the naturalist to become one with the surroundings. I don’t have to kill the tree to know it. In those moments, I make myself malleable and transform into some larger meaning than the small space I take up at most other times. I pull away from this place where I fit in so well with a sense of loss.

The death of its member branches is a natural part of the life of a Bristlecone. In the oldest trees there is at least as much dead wood as live, sometimes more. After death, their skeletons may stand for uncounted decades. The oldest dead trunks scattered across the alpine turf like bleached bones have been beyond this life for over a century. With an ancestry of over 10,000 years, since enough ice cleared out of the cirque after an age of ice, a visit here is a sojourn to the elder community. Like the prairie, the physical space occupied by an alpine tree is well beyond the reach of its branches and the flight of its attending birds. It also takes its place in an irreversible time of transformation and loss.

Vastly long after the death of the Groundsel, me, and even the aged tree itself, this ridge will erode, severely creating slope on which even the Bristlecones will not stand. If the planet’s atmosphere warms enough, even the tundra will be gone. And not withstanding human intrusion, long after the humans are gone, the mountains too will flatten and disappear. If life continues, the Nutcracker may have a successor bird for its ancestral niche and perhaps a successor species of naturalist devoted to its study. Now I hear the distant voices of hawks and on occasion, when the wind lets up, the voices of hikers whose words blur with the distance and mean nothing to me. This place is about loss, but also preservation, perseverance, transformation, and connection in time and space revealed by the repeated patterns of nature.

In my notes on these subjects from decades ago, I speculated on a general upward evolution of advancement: more efficient species, greater knowledge, a democratic political procession. Instead, change is neutral even if the circumstances of change may be more, or less, favorable as expressed by Carl Orff: “The wheel of Fortune turns, and I am put down, while someone else is taken up on high. Exalted gloriously, a king sits at the top. Let him beware his ruin!” As a generally true pattern, it may be stated:

Systems follow natural processes of change to maintain or transform into a different form.

In the physical realm, radioactive decay is such a process; in the biological realm, the carbon cycle circulates material through different life forms over time; and in the social realm, our understanding of the entirety reinvents itself through the progression of philosophies. The stories we tell ourselves about the way things are in the world often concern the nature and meaning of loss. In our time, political fascism (authoritarianism of both the so-called left and right) and religious fundamentalism (represented by many different groups and creeds) purports to explain the state of loss: Loss of land, resources, wealth, status, dignity, freedom, life itself. Common to each story is the assignment of blame to other people or to nature itself. All stories of disconnection are tales of loss. Stories of connection lead to a different way of thinking and acting.

To establish the person/nature connection in our lives, organizations, and societies, there are generally true patterns we must try to become conscious of. Whether or not we are aware, these patterns are operating all around us at all times. In our homes, workplaces, nations, in meditative or ecstatic or profane states, without our permission, potential unfolds into realized form. Defining complex issues one-dimensionally avoids coming to terms with the inherent energy flow leading to emergent properties and therefore has no basis in nature:

Aspects of existence are a collection of malleable properties rather than a set singularity.

This is one of pattern recognition’s most radical lessons: Nature operates with an economy of pattern and form to achieve complexity. With an understanding of the generally true patterns, what were once mere independent agents become instead aspects of changing forms with velocity and position. The reason we need to tell stories about things, events, and processes is that energy can dissipate into useful function or into purposeless void. Either way, it is a social realm example of the generally true that turbulence, position, velocity, and energy flow, both create and are created by us. This has been noted in the psychological sciences. William Reich observed that human happiness, what we might term contentment, arises from our ability to connect with nature. Theodore Roszak put forth the premise that human-caused pollution and destruction of the earth is an indication of the state of the human soul.

The stories we tell about loss are among our most important, not the less so for often degenerating into circular reasoning: We must give up our civil liberties to fight terrorists who would deprive us of our freedom. We must sacrifice the environment (the source of our economy) for the sake of growing our economy. These arguments nearly always win out over opposing views. In the tradition of the Great Chain of Being, questions that we might ask regarding consequences of actions and relatedness of all things, events, and processes are often not accepted as valid by political and media authorities. Any pattern larger than their own personal gain is not considered relevant. Questions of meaning can be deflected by construction of an entirety characterized by static constancy where change and time don’t matter. Environmentalists for the most part have accepted this state of definition, equally ignoring the existence of generally true patterns and usually asking questions or making protests relevant only within the context of those who have defined loss instead of the more accurate perspective of change and relationship as our prevailing wind.

Next essay: Chapter 7 Part II Loss

Generally True Patterns #17

Peak 12,819 Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Peak 12,819, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature



Part 17 of 22


Chapter 6 Part IV Organization, Leadership and Imprecision (turbulence)

Since knowledge of patterns can give guidance to behavior, by implication there are ethical dimensions to this line of inquiry, seen more clearly when restated as a question: How can we use knowledge of generally true patterns as a guide for our behavior? If we ask this, then we are faced not only with using this body of thought as a guide for how we act in relation to each other at work, at home, and in society in general, but also, as a guide for our relationship with nature itself. Could generally true patterns form a systemic basis for morality? Generally true patterns can be thought of as a philosophical ecotone, a phase/space of transition/connection, the entirety of things, events, processes, and organizational structures that are at once (in space or in the mind) a place apart and a place connected. This process of ordering may itself be part of some larger pattern. Pattern recognition can be used in assessing personal and organizational situations: environment (constraints and opportunities), resources (availability of information), and history (the relative importance of agents at work on each level of the system perceived as moving from less important to more important).

The challenge faced by individuals and organizations is that of adapting to the turbulence caused by the actions of other systems (physical and cognitive). The manifestation of turbulence is uncertainty. The outcome of uncertainty is change. Organizations may expand to encompass a greater sphere of the environment (pushing boundaries outward) in an attempt to control change (e.g., purchases, mergers, acquisitions) or may attempt to become more self-sufficient by increasing internal production of whatever is needed to sustain the organization’s operation. But when these methods become an attempt at imposing centralized control, the system can move toward a closed rather than open organizational model and a counterproductive rejection of the generally true pattern of the inevitability of change. Failure to cope with change results in organizational death. This is a common if not predominant tendency over time that might be shown by listing the number of business and private non-profit corporations over one hundred years old or the list of first marriages lasting a lifetime.

The generally true pattern here is:

Energy input is needed to maintain any system over time without running down.

This input comes in part from individuals within an organization and can be measured by whether or not actions taken are achieving agreed-upon objectives. Energy comes into an organization from the outside (taking into consideration the larger environment) determining the appropriateness of actions taken in relation to the larger frame of reference for the system as a whole. Deciding what constitutes inside vs. outside energy sources is an imprecise act. The generally true patterns are useful for making such arbitrary divisions less important. When we organize how we think about things, events, and processes as a kind of continuum rather than a separation, we begin to apply models from nature to the needs of our organizations.

The usefulness or guidance value of a pattern can be tested by stating it as a question: If this pattern holds generally true in physical, biological, and other social systems, how can we apply the lessons derived from it to a problem in our own organization or lives? The process starts with identifying a particular pattern, such as All production is associated with certain costs.If specific examples can be found in all three categories of systems, then the pattern identified could be generally true. Next comes analyzing the meaning of the pattern to determine how it applies to one’s own organizational problems (including one’s personal life). It is at that point that the leap is made from theory to practice.

Next essay: Chapter 7 Part I Loss

Generally True Patterns #16

Parry Primrose, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Parry Primrose, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature





Part 16 of 22


Chapter 6 Part III Organization, Leadership and Imprecision (the change process)

Statements about patterns of the generally true often include either the words energy or information or both. These qualities can be interpreted as signals. The deep pattern of all energy and all information can be summarized:

Structures of organization are systems of signals expressed in the form of energy, matter, and information in physical and cognitive systems.

Consideration of generally true patterns provide a means of processing signals that evolve over time as more or new information is known, gathered, or accumulated. When the intake or generation of new energy slows enough or even stops, the system will wind down under the weight on its own entropy and eventually cease to function. The unpredictability of generative signals is problematic for bureaucratic or authoritarian organizations. A historical correlation can be demonstrated between a civilization’s failure and its running out of information just as natural resources support physical structures and psychic or moral energy support cognitive structures. The long line of failed authoritarian organizations is illustrative of energy non-replenishment, which the leaders of the Soviet Union didn’t understand. The input of signals forces change. Open systems tend to develop a more complex web of interrelationships. The emphasis on open systems has a political overtone valuing democratic over authoritarian. Acceptance of a democratic political model might lead us to perceive such patterns in nature. The quality of openness could allow us to recognize and employ this generally true pattern:

Organizational structures adapt to fit needs (or events or situations) as need arises.

An ideal philosophy for an organization’s leader to understand is accepting change as a given, and moving into rather than fighting it. In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, by stepping into the path of an attacker (change) the adept accepts the onrush of new energy (information) allowing the situation to move to a new stage while at the same time maintaining a sense of identity and purpose. Disequilibrium (signals in apparent chaos) leads to creativity (evolution) as the aspects of a complex system re-emerge to take on new form and new life, and then more energy leads to a period of new self-organization. These forms of conversion repeat endlessly through time.

Generally true patterns are refinements of one another, interconnected in such a way within the entirety that we should not try to entirely separate one from the next. They read with a certain likeness of character; each is a way into the larger system of patterns, but no one of them is the right way in. In social systems, the task of a leader is to understand the subtlety among them and choose the most appropriate to apply to a particular problem.

The leader as systemist learns to use patterns of the generally true as a means of traveling through various perceptions of time and multiple layers of problems faced by an organization. The role of leadership (as opposed to management) in an organization is to call for change and begin to implement the processes that make for change. Sometimes this process fails. Among the possible reasons for this failure is the fear or unwillingness of the leaders themselves to accept the concept of change so deeply that they are willing to change their personal attitudes. (Again, this equally applies to the way we organize our own lives and pursuits.) It is not enough for leaders to call for change. They must understand the structural dynamics of change in order to internalize acceptance of the concept and then act upon that recognition. Pattern recognition provides a way into this process. Here are three brief comparisons of pattern recognition and leadership practices.

Pattern: An alteration or change in an agent or process can send permutations through a system.

Leadership practice: Making a deep change in oneself can cause changes in the surrounding organizational environment. Internally driven leadership intent can make nearly anyone in an organization an agent of change.

Pattern: Systems evolve where movement of energy pushes the system to the edge of chaos, the place where creativity and adaptation to changing conditions takes place.

Leadership practice: Understanding organizations from an ecological perspective of seeing a relationship among all players in an environment. Systems must live on the edge of random disorder to generate the chaotic patterned disorder necessary to the evolution of the system.

Pattern: Diminishment of energy into a system leads the organizational structure to resemble a closed system.

Leadership practice: Recognition that the dynamic change process has been replaced by a gradual stasis, failure to adapt, and ultimate collapse that leads toward extinction of the system. Incremental or slow change in oneself or in an organization keeps open the possibility of reversing the process of change into a new form, but it also keeps open the option of returning to the old ways. Deep (authentic) change is not accepted. The attempt by a leader to retain control over all the processes in the system is a way of limiting the process of change itself and thus the inflow of energy. Energy starved systems act contrary to the surrounding environment. Failure by a living system (organization, individual, species) to adapt assures systemic failure. Taking actions based on an illusion of control over the environment is similarly dangerous to an organization over the long run. Surrendering control is difficult to achieve since the concept of organization itself implies some degree of predictability. A leader’s willingness to accept guidance within pattern processes rather than attempting control and absolute prediction of specific outcomes is what I mean by giving up the illusion of control.

There is in these two approaches a dichotomy between a content orientation favoring control and equilibrium and a process orientation allowing dynamism and emergence (spontaneous self-organization). If we accept the second model as the more accurate reflection of reality, then a system (internalized in our perceptions) of constant change creates a particularly active kind of universe. When an organization becomes more open to change, it risks increasing disorder, especially in the short run, but stands to gain an importation of ideas, unexpected resources, and a possible evolutionary advantage.

This advantage is a head start on the change process which is in any event inevitable, whatever our resistance to it. Since we cannot foretell the future, what is not gained is an exact image of what will happen next. Since pattern recognition does give us a general if imprecise idea of what could happen, the risk in letting go of the illusion of control is less risky than holding onto it. It is not enough to say that we embrace the idea that we live in an environment of change. By itself, such a statement is largely without meaning. Acceptance of change as the actual model of reality calls for a reordering of how we organize knowledge, away from a concept of separate but connected events toward a concept of interconnection of all things, events, and processes into networks of systems.

Next essay: Chapter 6 Part IV Organization, Leadership and Imprecision

Generally True Patterns #15

Parry Lousewort, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Parry Lousewort, Mt. Wheeler, New Mexico

Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History of Recognizing Ourselves as a Part of Nature



Part 15 of 22


Chapter 6 Part II Organization, Leadership and Imprecision(2073)

The fossil light from a distant star may be analyzed to determine the elements fueling that star. Mammals learn by observation of others. Scholars and novelists convey their truth through storytelling. Secretiveness, as it is practiced in organizations, or obfuscation promulgated by bureaucracy contradicts the pattern of information flow, cutting back the energy available to a system, often compromising its long-term survivability. In an attempt to create maximum stability by means of diminishing energy flow, authoritarian organizations frequently collapse from the failure to adapt. Secretive or open:

All production is associated with certain costs.

This is as true at the cellular level as it is at the corporate. Energy transference is required in the making or transformation of anything, a principle more clearly understood for physical systems. Its application in living systems is more problematic but can still be traced. What is imperfectly understood is how to account for costs in human economic systems. A reductionist approach is selective in what is quantifiable as costs—only certain kinds of costs are valid. Looking at accrued expenses systemically creates a different accounting regime. Allowing for all costs occurring within a complex system such as a social organization would mean assigning value to human effort, opportunity costs for other kinds of production foregone, and environmental consequences. For instance, the profit and loss report for a timber harvest shows costs of labor and equipment compared to price of sale of the final product. Not included in the accounting are costs such as carbon pollution and harm to water quality, wildlife, plants, and aesthetics.

By recognizing all the costs that occur within the system, a truer picture results than with the current approach of including only some of the costs. Complex, systemic cost accounting of production by human organizations could present a more accurate (but not exact) model more closely aligned to the energy accounting methods of nature and thus more closely aligned with the generally true pattern. In our considerations, we must also take into account:

Major changes in a system can come suddenly.

Thermonuclear transformation of elements in stars; rapid evolution within a species (such as wolves becoming dogs); the unexpected bankruptcy of a major multi-national corporation; all of these suggest sudden, largely unpredictable change as a prevailing pattern of the universe. A theory in the long debate of catastrophism vs. gradualism was named “punctuated equilibrium” by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge. Environmental changes elicit immediate responses, with each bifurcation leading to a change in the evolutionary paths of individual organisms and species as well as the ecosystems they inhabit. Specifics do not repeat: an organism is not reinvented into the same form as a previous one, nor apparently galaxies, but the rapid change pattern exists over time resulting in a new emergent self-organization of the system:

A change in the environment of an area will be accompanied by a change in the population of that environment.

In living systems, cold and dark in the autumn is accompanied by a falling of leaves. In a volume of interstellar space, the local population of photons is diminished (according to theory) by the presence of a black hole that captures particles. In any of the three realms a change in one place creates a perturbation through the whole system. Another way to state this is that:

Reciprocity is inevitable.

Also note that while change is driven in part by chance, change can also move through logic:

Systems must be built through the needed developmental stages.

In an ecosystem, successful reintroduction of climax species does not skip steps but develops through plant and animal succession stages. It is for this reason that human attempts to “restore” damaged ecosystems meet with difficulty. In correlation with this:

Evolution is a constant in nature.

From genetic mutations to the presence of play in mammalian species to the ability of a business concern to become a learning organization, innovation is present at all levels. Solar systems and entire galaxies are born, burn out, and are then recreated in a new form over time. Creativity, like history and memory, is an aspect of evolution. The long trajectory of creativity in any form also faces resistance based on past choices:

Longevity is subject to limitations.

When organisms adopted genetic recombination through sex, the rate of evolutionary process increased, but the price of sex was death, since that progress depended upon one generation succeeding another. Creativity and destruction are, as Herakleitos suggested, the same process. From molecules to individual cells to species, genera, families, business ventures, economic systems, civilizations to galaxies, all things run a course. The prospect of termination can be negative for the individual agent but not necessarily for the system as a whole. Further, the individual or collective agent is restricted in terms of placement:

Agents, acting separately or collectively, claim a portion of physical or conceptual space as its own.

Placement includes both the physical space taken up by a robin and the concept among robins of territoriality. Ideologies and ideas are inhabited cognitive space. Gravitation and other physical laws make a different kind of claim on space, but a claim nonetheless. The concept of claim, whether mental or physical, presupposes that all things, processes, events, and organizations undergo some degree of movement. For living systems, at least two important aspects of claim arise. While not generally true in the three realms, they arise from the generally true: (1) All living forms constantly move toward a place of better opportunity, whether by choice or by chance. (2) All living things are impacted by other systems and may be modified or eliminated. (3) A living being is so much a part of its environment that it is, in effect, its environment; without an environment to live in, it cannot exist; equally, in its absence, the environment is a different place. There is also this:

The closer a system gets to equilibrium, the less resilient it becomes to any changes in the environment.

Forest fire suppression over decades was meant to establish permanent equilibrium but instead weakened the system it was meant to protect, leading to the catastrophe of major crown fires and interfering with normal tree reproduction cycles. The related concept is that:

 All systems are dynamic and evolving or in stasis and dying.

Change represents a kind of system where change itself changes the conditions under which change occurs. For instance, in physics, within the concept of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, space and time underwent changes in the moments after the event occurred. In the biology of ecosystems, development possibilities are explored by the system itself through natural selection that goes beyond individuals to the mass of relationships among aggregates of individuals. The concepts of self-organization and co-evolution enter here. A non-equilibrium state gives rise to complexity. As a generally true pattern, it has already been summarized as change compounds. Unsettledness is the font of evolution. Imprecision is its signature.

Systems are identifiable as entities within an environment. They are also of the environment, acted upon and acting upon the surroundings in an interconnection of ongoing processes. Time may be linear from the standpoint of a modern social organization, but energy acting within time may be cyclical, giving rise to patterns:

Systems follow natural processes of renewal to maintain themselves, including the ability to evolve into a different form.

Both the carbon cycle in biology and Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm progression show how nature seems to have a preference for recurrence of generalities. The life element carbon recycles in a generally similar way over time, although the manifestations of that carbon alters in the form of different individuals and different species. In the course of time, thought gives rise to different theories of how nature is ordered. The process of refining goes on through history while the thoughts themselves change as additional information becomes available to foster that thought. A leader might guide an organization in a particular direction, making use of available energy to renew the organization or using energy to force the organization to take on an altogether new form. This form itself, which seems solid when looked at from the outside, is from the inside an evolving interconnection of things, events, and processes:

Aspects of existence are a collection of malleable properties rather than a set singularity.

This is basic to physics. It is also illustrative in ecology, the science of life relationships to environment. The robin outside my office window may be predator or prey, but neither the individual nor the individual as representative of its species is simplistic, particularly in relation to me the observer. The robin who inhabits the juniper trees is by turns a stationary object observed through my binoculars; a blur of motion as it moves through the forest; an active individual; a participating member of a flock; a consumer of living things; an energetic force as carrier of its informational genetic code; an input mechanism for other species, spreading seeds, depositing nutrients, and providing sustenance to other organisms with its own death. What is the role of the robin in the forest ecosystem? It is no one thing, or rather, it is at any given moment one or more processes. Through all its activities, the robin is a pattern of accomplishments, a system of its own body and life events, part of a larger system of all robins, part of the carbon cycle, and so on, subsumed into ever larger systems.

The ever-changing role of an organization and its leadership could be similarly broken into its unique aspects, but with the understanding that all the components and all the interrelationships cannot be charted. The leadership lesson is that the thing, event, or process we observe is not just the thing itself, but something more vast yet limited at the moment of observation by our choice of perception. (By leadership as an imprecision practice, I refer both to organizations and to the responsibility we take in any aspect of our own lives.)

Returning to the robin, but reversing course from its relation to the outside world to its relation to the inside world, on the robin subatomic level there is no longer matter at all, but there are electromagnetic forces holding particles together long enough and securely enough to form solids. There are mostly empty regions of space consisting of imperfectly understood waves and particles of energy. The mysterious motivation of movement on this level can be stated in the form of an additional generally true statement:

Energy moves through all systems.

The energy of sunlight is utilized by the supraorganic system by way of transformation in plants through photosynthesis.

In the social realm, the distribution of information in an organization is the most important measure of energy flow. In organizations, including organizations of our own beliefs and actions, the energy of power is generated by the changing imprecision of relationships. The movement of this kind of energy through an organization is analogous to the way energy moves through any natural system. Information shared through a system such as an organization gives many people an opportunity to act in the best interest of the group: If we all know what the goal is, we are more likely to work cooperatively than it we don’t know the goal. In the complex web of an ecosystem of which the robin is a part, a larger number of web strands (interconnections) usually give greater strength to the system as a whole. If this perception is correct, then an application of the lesson could be found in creating a model for an organization where distributed power (information) gives authority and responsibility to the greatest number, increasing the number of stakeholders who have an interest in the outcome of whatever processes are going on.

Distribution of information and power in human systems can create an opportunity for individual expression as well as the possibility of effecting changes in the system, thus altering the course of the system’s further evolution. Restricted distribution of information, such as corporate accounting fraud, can lead to the collapse of an organization. Shutting off energy flow is deadly to any living system. In the natural systems of wild-nature, such flow-through of energy creates long term interrelationships that evolve without coming apart even through the lives and deaths of individuals and species. Order can be seen through repeating patterns.

Next essay: Chapter 6 Part III Organization, Leadership and Imprecision