Derek Cabrera [ 10 DEC 2012 | Systems Thinking | 17:38 ] There’s a lot of talk recently about the 21st century skills or 21st century thinking. What do we need to know in the 21st century?
It strikes me that we may be a bit behind schedule — given that we’re in the 21st century right now and that those kinds of skills take tremendous amount of time generationally to develop. So I thought that perhaps we could think ahead a little bit and ask ourselves what kind of minds will we need in the 22nd century.
This TED gathering is based on the theme Breakthroughs and there are really two things that we should think about when we think about breaking through — having breakthrough ideas.
The first is to think really big. Because if you’re going to take the time to make a breakthrough it might as well be a big one.
The second thing is to think different. Most breakthroughs are actually quite simple.
There are actually things that lie right under our noses. Most breakthroughs don’t come from geniuses they come from people that just see things differently and are willing to take the time sometimes months sometimes years sometimes decades to look at what most people see as noise and look for signal. So what are we looking for, when we’re looking at this noise? What kind of signal are we looking for?
What we’re looking for is patterns that are hidden in plain sight.
Now a big breakthrough in physics that physicists are working on, and excited about finding, is called a theory of everything or T.O.E.
What they’re looking for is a theory that will bring together the four Universal forces of the universe:
- the gravitational force
- the electromagnetic force and
- the strong and
- weak nuclear forces
Such a theory would be a big deal. It would be an undertaking and a momentous occasion to find it all.
Technology insists and science itself would be affected but, to be fair, the application would also be limited in our everyday lives. It wouldn’t help us, for example, learn how to bake banana bread any better. It wouldn’t necessarily help us to run a better organization or raise better children or teach a better class or resolve political conflicts or even to some extent world peace.
So I wondered to myself whether or not there could be a TOE that didn’t apply to everything in physics but to everything everywhere — from super strings or quarks, from atoms to molecules, from organelles to organs, from organisms to organizations, ecology’s and businesses, families and civilization, planets to universes –for this we would need not merely a TOE but a big TOE.
A big Theory Of Everything
Let me be clear though. I really mean everything regardless of its scale. That means anything physical of any size and anything cognitive. Emotional ideas, motivations and even all of the things that are in the estimated twenty thousand-plus disciplines of knowledge. Could there really be a universal pattern to everything and if there was could it be so simple that everyone could understand it?
The answer, as you’re going to see, is yes.
It took me over 20 years to discover these Universal patterns
I looked across vast areas of knowledge to identify fundamental laws that underlie everything a big TOE what I found is a formalized in this equation the nice thing is you don’t have to understand the equation to understand the deep implications and dynamics of this equation in order to understand the underlying TOE in fact once you start to see and I’m going to show you lots of examples of it you’ll be able to see it everywhere but in a nutshell this big TOE formalism states is that everything has the same four structural patterns that everything is based on these patterns and the nice thing about theories of everything is that if you find anything any single thing that doesn’t respond to these patterns then the theory is wrong but the theory is not wrong it is universal and all things have this structure let’s take a look everything is a distinction by definition because it has thing hood in order to be a distinction it must have an identity of some kind and that identity is different from the identities of the other stuff that surround it so you can see that each of those has identity while the others are playing other and vice versa all four are playing identity other simultaneously now whether atoms or molecules organs organisms or organizations everything has a context and that context is other things so identity other distinctions are universal across scale it’s easy to think of people as having identities but think of it this way everything in the universe has an ID badge of some kind or another and if everything has an identity then that thing is also acting as an other an apple is an apple but an apple is also not an orange I am me and you are not me even if everything was an apple things are still distinguishable there are distinctions in your closet there everywhere sometimes distinctions are so subtle they are hidden from our perspective from our perception but they are there sometimes distinctions makes us stand out and sometimes they make us fit in distinctions occur at every level of scale distinguishable individuals can actually band together as part of a larger distinguishable system now things structure themselves everything structures itself in systems holes made up of parts and those parts can be holes that have parts identities combined with others to form new systems these newly formed systems themselves are distinctions and they have a unique identity these systems relate to other systems every hole has parts every part has a whole part whole structure is universal to all things what makes part whole structure possible are two incredible forces splitting and lumping the universe is ace plumper things can split apart forming new distinctions and things can also lump together forming new holes or obliterating existing distinctions in the process when you look around you yourself at the world of things around us you will see systems made up of parts and parts and parts in fact part whole structure is right under your nose and above it and to the left and right once you start to see these hidden patterns in plain sight it will amaze you how much you’ve been missing part low structure occurs across scale but the pattern is scale free it makes no difference how small or how large something is there is part whole structure take a look pay attention to how your mind deconstructs these four scenes in just fractions of seconds in the first you distinguish between fish you see two different types of fish and immediately create two different part hole groupings in the second you distinguish between many different individual distinct balls but then quickly see that there are three different part hole groupings part whole structure you distinguish players in soccer distinctions but then you distinguish between two teams part-whole structures you distinguish a group of individuals but quickly group them into men and women young and old etc part-whole structures your mind does it without you even giving it any permission in fact systematizing things into part-whole groupings isn’t just something we do in our minds it’s something that occurs in nature even a balloon release generates random and chaotic part-whole structures why because things like to relate to other things things are related and things act as relationships when things were late they act upon each other and react to each other things relate whether they are physical or conceptual across scale when two atoms two billiard balls to ideas to people even two galaxies interact they mutually Co affect each other take a look at this image from Hubble this is an image of two distinctions two galaxies relating to each other and forming a new distinction a system called ARP 87 the shapes of both of these galaxies have been distorted by the gravitational interaction that they have with one another Carl Jung said the meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances if there is any reaction both are transformed so we see this inter relation action reaction across the universe both literally and metaphorically the handshake of relationships underlies everything indeed it is often said that life did not overtake the planet through combat but through networking relationships from pure abstractions to molecules to circuit boards to subways things relate to other things relationships are always rooted in go form yet some are more obvious than others you can see some of them there Nature has a way of keeping these relationships hidden from our view in this case the relationships chemical communications among ants is what makes the impossible possible simple interrelationships called hypertext lead to the emergence of the entire world wide web each page or site in this massive relational network is like a perspective on the world perspective is the interrelationship between point and view perspectives affect everything and everything can be a perspective perspective much of our beloved technologies give us new perspectives they allow us to see new distinctions new part whole systems new relationships and even new sub perspectives they show us things that are hidden otherwise from our view perspectives are ubiquitous they are literally all around us and different points of view yield different distinctions systems relationships and perspectives the cameraman the reporter the interviewee in the news anchor focus on different things they’re focusing on their tasks they see different distinctions they see different part hole groupings different relationships and yes even different part hole perspectives the dynamics of these four patterns distinction systems relationships and perspectives how they relate to each other in a modular and evolutionary way are very complex for example the distinction United Nations is made up of the identity UN and also the other not UN now both of those things are part whole systems made up of many parts the member countries of those two systems and while each of those member countries are related in lots of different ways they’re also made up of many parts factions parties and Jules and all along that continuum there is perspective the UN perspective a particular country’s perspective a factions perspective and individual perspective like the UN any social group whatsoever may take a group perspective which is made up of individual sub perspectives and in any given event or situation there are countless perspectives and each one forms a part of the larger perspectival whole the sum total of those perspectives comprises the objective event note to that there are many systems the systems of the yard marking the systems that make up the parts of the uniform and the all-encompassing distinction ball or not ball our own perspectives are so convincingly objective that it’s sometimes hard to think outside of them this is Abby’s point of view using the UV spectrum now abstract ideas can be perspectives too if you visit any news site you’ll see that the tabs themselves are conceptual perspectives each one limits the totality of the news based on your interest so we can look from the perspective of money or world perspective or US perspective perspectives are formed from anything not just things with eyes like people or animals but even from ideas like money or entertainment or us Facebook is a complex perspectival system what you see depends on what perspective you’re looking from here’s my newsfeed which is every one of my friends and likes from my perspective and my profile what it looks like from my perspective but I can look at my profile from what it looks like from my friend Pete’s perspective I can even look at Pete and I as a related system and look at that perspective and notice that it sees all the things that we share in common and nothing else to the perspective limits the information I can even look on the right hand side and see advertisers perspectives on me and my demographics and psychographics because that’s why they’re putting little advertisements up for me I’ve highlighted distinctions systems relationships and perspectives for you today but these are not for independent patterns they are massively parallel they combine and mix-and-match to create new complex structures they evolve these four patterns are in everything we see them in everything from the very smallest things to the very biggest things in the universe we are Stardust these four patterns are not merely in the universe around us they are in us they are the basis of our thinking mind our thoughts are not divorced from the dsr P structure of everything they are embedded in it the SRP patterns are in the world every bit as much as they are in our mind as we observe the world this is admittedly a big idea a big TOE breakthroughs have always been born of thinking big and thinking different to see these D SRP patterns is to see the hidden structure of ideas innovation invention and creativity to see these four patterns is to see the hidden processes of the human mind of thought itself to see these four patterns is to expand our ability to succeed in whatever we want to try out to see these four patterns is to experience more connect more understand more deeply and create more to see distinctions systems relationships and perspectives is to develop an integral mind a fluid mind a 22nd century mind.
Derek Cabrera is a systems theorist and cognitive scientist affiliated with Cornell University