Biology

Buckminster Fuller’s thought and work relates to biology in many ways. It is beyond the scope of this article to exhaustively cover the areas of biology that Fuller drew on and influenced (perhaps this page can be versioned, or another database can be utilized). This article will briefly describe Fuller’s general perspective on living system, then review his connections across multiple physical scales of organization of biological systems,

In General

  • Fuller considered Universe to be the thing that includes each and every physical system constituting material existence. He spoke of how various living systems show adaptation, pattern integrity, and development (for example the caterpillar → butterfly transition, how the bee and the flower are coupled via precession, and the Critical Path that Spaceship Earth is on). In this sense, Fuller’s work is consistent with modern perspectives on  biological systems as complex patterns of interactions, weavings, and nestings across multiple spatial and temporal scales (1,2,3).
  • Fuller’s scope encompassed systems that are abiotic (e.g. engineered) as well as biotic (e.g. living). His projects were often at the interface between the abiotic and the biotic, for example the design of maps, world games, dwellings, and cities that are nestled into nature. It is Fuller’s integrated perspective on humans in our niche (be it peripersonal, continental, or planetary) that gives his work such a human touch.
  • Fuller’s perspective on humans as metaphysical systems shines through in his famous quotation: “Ninety-nine percent of who you are is invisible and untouchable”. A deep thread across multiple domains for Fuller was a focus on the dynamic (operational) nature of biological identity, as in his “I seem to be a verb” (related to modern work in process ontologies for biology, 4).

Here we cover some key contributions to Biology from Fuller, as well as other non-Fuller work from the Synergetic/Tensegrity perspective. We will follow the approach of others (1,2,3) by organizing the sections according the their spatial-temporal scale. Here the nested scales are organized from largest to smaller (as per Fuller’s “start with Universe”), rather than the contrary conventional order or smallest to largest (which tells an important complementary story about bottom-up emergence when read in linear order). 

Intro citations:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC3262309/, “A theory of biological relativity: no privileged level of causation”, Noble 2012.
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30655223/ , “Variational ecology and the physics of sentient systems”, Ramstead et al. 2019.
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34139169/ , “Mapping the multiscale structure of biological systems”, Schaffer & Ideker 2021.
  4. https://philpapers.org/rec/DUPAPO , “A process ontology for biology”, Dupré, 2014.

Fuller Scales