There’s sort of a collective AI in Google Search, where we’re all sort of plugged in like nodes on the network; like leaves on a big tree. And we’re all feeding this network with our questions and answers. We’re all collectively programming the AI. And Google, plus all the humans that connect to it, are one giant cybernetic collective. This is also true of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and all these social networks. They’re giant cybernetic collectives.

Systems Theory

Cybernetics

Systems theory is a framework for analyzing how various components interact to produce an outcome within a complex entity or process. It examines the interrelationships and interdependencies between individual parts and how these contribute to the functioning of the whole system.

Systems theory originated in biology in the 1920s from the work of biologists Paul Weiss and Ludwig von Bertalanffy, but was soon applied to other fields. Key concepts in systems theory are holism, emergence, hierarchy, self-regulation, and adaptivity. Instead of reducing a system to its constituent parts and studying each in isolation, systems theory focuses on the arrangements and interactions between parts that connect them into a whole. It views systems as more than the sum of their parts - they exhibit complex behaviors that result from the interactions between the components. Systems can be embedded within higher-level systems and can contain their own subsystems in a hierarchy. Feedback processes allow systems to regulate themselves and adapt to changing conditions to maintain stability. Systems theory has been applied in developing fields like cybernetics, system dynamics, and complex systems. It has impacted research across disciplines including psychology, sociology, economics, ecology, and engineering.

Documents

Donella Meadows   (1977)

A Philosophical Look at System Dynamics

Donella Meadows discusses the philosophical foundations of system dynamics, a modeling approach used to understand complex systems. She emphasizes identifying causal relationships, feedback loops, rates of change, and states within systems. The goal is to model how a system’s structure generates its behavior over time, allowing for better understanding and potential intervention.

Stuart Kauffman   (1996)

At Home in the Universe

The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity

Stuart Kauffman’s At Home in the Universe unveils a scientific revolution centered on spontaneous order in complex systems. Kauffman argues that complexity itself triggers self-organization, revealing life as a natural outcome rather than a chance event. From cell development to cultural evolution, he explores how this principle shapes diverse phenomena. Praised as a visionary by Stephen Jay Gould and Philip Anderson, Kauffman’s work extends Darwin’s theory and offers profound insights into the essence of life.

James Burke   (1978)

The Trigger Effect

Connections, Season 1, Episode 1

Both the beginning and the end of the story are here. The end is our present dependence on complex technological networks illustrated by the NYC power blackouts. Life came almost to a standstill: support systems are taken for granted failed. How did we become so helpless? The technology originated with the plow and agriculture. Each invention demands its own follow-up: once started, it is hard to stop. This segment ends in Kuwait, where society has leaped from ancient Egypt to the technology of today in 30 years.

Richard Buckminster Fuller and Kiyoshi Kuromiya   (1992)

Cosmography

A Posthumous Scenario for the Future of Humanity

An ambitious synthesis of Fuller’s lifetime of interdisciplinary work, spanning geometry, systems theory, design, and cosmology. He outlines synergetic principles underlying natural structures, sustainable architecture like geodesic domes, and humanity’s potential through whole systems thinking and technologies in equilibrium with the universe’s finite resources. Dense but visionary, it encapsulates Fuller’s goal of developing a “Cosmography”—a coordinated model for all knowledge.

Norbert Wiener   (1948)

Cybernetics

Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine

Acclaimed as one of the "seminal books comparable in ultimate importance to Galileo or Malthus or Rousseau or Mill", Cybernetics was judged by twenty-seven historians, economists, educators, and philosophers to be one of those books which may have a substantial impact on public thought and action in the years ahead.

Russell Ackoff   (1993)

From Mechanistic to Systemic Thinking

Ackoff states that humanity is in the early stage of a transition from the Machine Age to the Systems Age. The Machine Age was characterized by belief in complete understandability of the universe, analysis as a method of inquiry, and cause and effect as a sufficient relationship to explain all. The dilemma that disrupted such beliefs was systems thinking. The Machine Age began to die when humanity gave up the principle of understandability. Gradually, it’s become accepted that there can be no complete understanding of the universe because nothing can be understood independently of its environment—all is environmentally relative. While analysis produces knowledge, it is synthesis that produces understanding. Furthermore, the Systems Age recognizes that cause and effect is just one way of looking at reality among an infinite number.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy   (1969)

General System Theory

In his seminal work, biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy outlines a theory of systems that breaks down disciplinary boundaries and argues that there are general principles and laws applicable to systems of all kinds. He contends that phenomena should be viewed not in isolation but as components of systems interacting with their environments. Bertalanffy proposes that there are commonalities across biological, physical, and social systems that can be explored through systems thinking. He suggests the need for an overarching systems science to uncover these universal system principles. The book develops key concepts like open and closed systems, steady states, growth, feedback, homeostasis, differentiation, hierarchy, and emergence. General System Theory was groundbreaking in its interdisciplinary approach and helped foster the growth of systems theory across academia and society.

Cadell Last   (2020)

Global Brain

Foundations of a Distributed Singularity

Cadell Last discusses the concept of a “Global Brain”—a distributed, self-organizing superintelligence emerging from the interconnectedness of humans and information-communication technologies. He explores the metaphorical, evolutionary, and cybernetic foundations of this potential phenomenon and its implications for human civilization, suggesting it may lead to a future of increased intelligence, cooperation, and abundance.

Cadell Last   (2015)

Human Metasystem Transition (HMST) Theory

This article proposes a theory of human evolution termed Human Metasystem Transition (HMST), suggesting that major transitions in human organization have been facilitated by the emergence of new information media and energy sources. It posits that the current convergence of the Internet and renewable energy could catalyze a fourth metasystem transition, leading to a global superorganism with compressed spatial and temporal dimensions of human interaction.

Cadell Last   (2015)

Information-Energy Metasystem Model

The human system is developing into a global biocultural superorganism, yet existing control systems appear inadequate for aligning a stable global goal state. Cadell Last proposes the Information-Energy Metasystem Model (IEMM), exploring human control system transitions throughout history. Drawing from cybernetic theories, the IEMM posits that major control transitions depend on specific information-energy control and feedback properties. As humanity approaches a potential fourth metasystem, Last argues for distributed, digital, and democratic mechanisms to organize a global commons, harnessing collective intelligence and direct democracy.

Richard Buckminster Fuller   (1963)

Man in Universe

Through cosmic timescales, humanity has voyaged in its vessel Earth, navigating by the star-charts of knowledge. Now we enter unmapped seas, led on by curiosity's compass. Though frail, our minds pilot mighty technologies, taming invisible forces to reshape our world. If we attune to the celestial rhythms resonant in matter's deepest reality, we may yet fulfill our odyssey's purpose—to be worthy stewards of the living jewel suspended in the eternal darkness.

Tyler Volk   (1995)

Metapatterns

Across Space, Time, and Mind

In the interdisciplinary tradition of Buckminster Fuller’s work, Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature, and Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics, Metapatterns embraces both nature and culture, seeking out the grand-scale patterns that help explain the functioning of our universe. Metapatterns begins with the archetypal patterns of space, both form-building and relational. Tyler Volk then turns to the arrows, breaks, and cycles that infuse the workings of time. With artful dexterity, he brings together many layers of comprehension, drawing on an astounding range of material from art, architecture, philosophy, mythology, biology, geometry, and the atmospheric and oceanographic sciences. Richly illustrating his metapatterns with a series of sophisticated collages prepared for this book, Volk offers an exciting new look at science and the imagination. As playful and intuitive as it is logical and explanatory, Metapatterns offers an enlightening view of the functional, universal form in space, processes in time, and concepts in mind.

Gregory Bateson   (1979)

Mind and Nature

A Necessary Unity

Renowned for his contributions to anthropology, biology, and the social sciences, Bateson asserts that man must think as Nature does to live in harmony on the earth and, citing examples from the natural world, he maintains that biological evolution is a mental process.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy   (1967)

Robots, Men, and Minds

Psychology in the Modern World

Based on lectures delivered as The Inaugural Lectures in The Heinz Werner Lecture Series at Clark University (Worcester, Mass.) in January 1966, the book introduces new conceptions of humans and their world. After discussing the advantages and drawbacks of humanity's propensity for the symbolic construction of reality, it focuses on the systems approach to an understanding of the species. The author warns against the common error of identifying cybernetics with general systems theory. No matter how complex the cybernetic system, it "can always be resolved into feedback circuits" and thought of in terms of "linear causality." The regulative behavior of general systems is determined by goal-directed, dynamic interaction between many forces and variables in an open system. Bertalanffy points out that "no comprehensive theory of systems exists today." As a model, however, the approach has many advantages, such as obviating the need for the "ghost in the machine" and suggesting some solutions to the mind-body problem.

Gregory Bateson   (1972)

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

Here is the book which develops a new way of thinking about the nature of order and organization in living systems, a unified body of theory so encompassing that it illuminates all particular areas of study of biology and behavior. It is interdisciplinary, not in the usual and simple sense of exchanging information across lines of discipline, but in discovering patterns common to many disciplines.

Francis Heylighen   (2002)

The Global Superorganism

An Evolutionary-Cybernetic Model of the Emerging Network Society

The organismic view of society is updated by incorporating concepts from cybernetics, evolutionary theory, and complex adaptive systems. Global society can be seen as an autopoietic network of self-producing components, and therefore as a living system or “superorganism”.

Fritjof Capra   (2018)

The World is a Network

In this discussion, Fritjof Capra discusses systems thinking, the cognitive dimension of life, nonlinear causality, emergence of novelty in living systems, ethics, world problems and solutions, transformative learning, and the importance of community. He covers the systems view of life from his book and emphasizes relationships, interconnectedness, and sustainability.