Tensegrity - The Geometry of Thinking

Exhibition Catalog, Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, 1976

In 1976 Johnson Wax sponsored a comprehensive and visually stimulating exhibit which featured large scale models, prints and exhibit pieces demonstrating the concepts behind synergetics. This was presented at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York*. Bucky's own thoughts on the importance of synergetics and its potential influence were presented along with the best concise overview of synergetics to date in the Cooper Hewitt Exhibit Brochure. Portions of this essay are excerpted below.

The 99% of humanity who do not understand calculus and other branches of advanced mathematics, think of science and technology, particularly the latter, as a new disease that has come along to plague society. Western hemisphere people associate technology most prominently with weapons of proliferation, world resources exhaustion, and both physical and metaphysical environmental pollutings.

The solid, cubic diversion and distortion of popular thinking prevents the technically illiterate 99% from realizing that the physical Universe consists only of and operates entirely according to the most exquisite technology.

What science discovers but fails to communicate to the public is that the technology of the Universe, which we speak of comprehensively as "Nature," operates only as a complex integral of exact mathematical laws. These laws govern all the omni-interaccomodations of the everywhere ceaselessly and eternally inter-transforming Scenario Universe.

So superb is the technology, for instance in biology, that our complexedly-grasping crane fingers operate on the ends of extraordinarily powerful multi-jointed cranes responding exquisitely to every command of our brains, while, for instance, in my 81 year case, continually replacing all the working parts with approximately no lost operational moments.

There are two main reasons that 99% of humanity is unable to comprehend science:

(A) 99.999% of all now known physical phenomena occur within the macro-micro ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum which are imperceptible to the human senses, and
(B) the fact that the calculations of the (only instrumentally informed) scientific activities are not conducted in the conceptual terms of humanity's popular thinking but, contrariwise, are conducted in abstruse, complex, popularly unteachable mathematical abstractions.

Only one-half a century old, the science of Synergetics presents an experimentally verifiable, conceptual mathematics which faithfully accommodates all of the morphological dynamics of nature's inherently four-dimensional behaviors.

The foregoing constitutes part of the conceptual bridge connecting the humanities and sciences which is now provided by Synergetics -- the optimally economic, omni-rational, four-dimensional mathematical coordination system operationally employed by Scenario Universe (Nature).

Lord C.P. Snow's book, Two Worlds, (the worlds of the humanist and the scientist) was a best seller of 15 years ago. It asserted that the chasm between the humanities and the sciences was swiftly increasing. Lord snow said it could never be spanned. He attributed the chasm to antipathy on the part of the literary humanists towards technology and industry as originally manifest in the first half of the nineteenth century. Several years after his book's publication, I met Lord Snow in London. Learning of my interest in his "chasm," he invited me to tea at his flat. I suggested to him that the chasm between the sciences and humanities had not been caused by humanist antipathy, but had occurred in the mid-nineteenth century when practical use of electromagnetics began.

My reasons for so thinking ran as follows: using only their bodily weight and a lever, human individuals learned millennia ago that they could lift loads many times greater than that which personal experience taught them could be lifted directly by use of their individual muscle alone. Thus human senses were coordinated to gain physical knowledge through direct experience. Experience, in turn, gave humans a direct sense of the increased effectiveness of their energetic efforts when they used their mind discovered, brain coordinated technical knowledge, as, for instance, that of the previously mentioned principle of leverage. It was only by such direct experiences that humans came feelingly to comprehend what the engineer calls "mechanical advantage." All the gears, pulleys, cams, and wheels of machinery employ the mathematical principles of leverage. (The teeth of gears are levers.)

Ancient sailors having pulled singly on one oar (lever) could clearly sense the vastly greater power that was cooperatively produced by the combined effectiveness of many oarsmen's efforts as they propelled multi-oar-banked ships unmovable by a single oarsman. Likewise, such humans could feelingly comprehend their combined power when a dozen sailors pushed against the outer ends of twelve levers arrayed horizontally around a vertical hub with which mechanism (a capstan or winch) they could reel in the anchor rope and raise a heavy rock (anchor), onto the foredeck of an ancient Greek ship. These same men, feeling the powerful weight of water in an overbreaking wave or waterfall, could comprehend the power generated by a large water wheel when a dammed river's water fell upon a series of bucketed levers mounted in a vertical array around a horizontally shafted wheel.

Experientially witnessing the action of all the interreciprocating parts, humans were able to comprehend operationally (which means experientially, which in turn means visually and feelingly) not only how water wheels worked, but also how steam turbines and crankshaft connected piston engines operated.

Despite experienceable shocks and sparks, humans could not however feelingly comprehend how the invisible, electrical generating process worked. When the humanist authors asked the scientist for a clear mechanical description of electromagnetics, the scientist said there was no mechanical model to describe. While both generators and motors had capstan-like rotors, they had no visibly contacting levers.

However, the electrically produced, invisible magnetism attractively rotated a pivoted needle "pointer" in front of a graduated dial. Thus the scientists were able to learn the quantitative rates of change caused by variations in their electrical apparatus design and they were able to make informative predictions which were verified when greater power producing alterations were made.

Combining mathematically derived probability tables and experimentally acquired data, scientists have evolved a family of mathematical constants and formulae characterizing the precise energetic interrelationships of different fields of physical exploration. Finding an N4 (four dimensional) rate of change in black body radiation the only three dimensionally organized scientist said: "Since nature manifests four dimensionality and the X,Y,Z coordinate system cannot accommodate its demonstration, it is clear that nature is not using models, wherefore we are justified in our statement to the humanists that there is no modelable explanation of electromagnetics."

Speaking in aeronautical terms, I said to Lord Snow, "Since the middle of the 19th century, highly specialized, pure science has been flying entirely on instruments -- no longer looking out the windows, assuming that there is naught to be seen." Other highly specialized engineers (electrical, mechanical, chemical) employ the pure scientists' formulae to produce visible apparatus and processes.

I went on to point out to Lord Snow that taking many years of time and using only "long hand" mathematical calculations, academic physicists had learned to cope successfully with "blind flying's" circuitously difficult mathematics. However, quite unexpectedly to those scientists, the post World War II development of the computer has rendered their difficult mathematics less popularly obscure. These obscurity-mastering physicists are not prone to demean their professionally exalted and complexed expertise by even considering -- let alone admitting -- that their science might be more effectively comprehended through synergetics' elegantly simple operational procedures.

For humans uneducated in "advanced" mathematics, to ascertain what is going on in science and technology, they must have personally feelable conceptual explanation. There must be direct correspondence of the visual information with remembered experiences of the senses.

I then introduced Lord Snow to the conceptual demonstrability of synergetics' vectorial geometry. He is a scientist. He agreed that 20th century Humanity has transformed itself from 90% illiteracy to 90% literacy in all fields of human concern, except those of science and design engineering. He could see that Synergetics has the possibility of popularly elucidating nature's rational and most economically stabilized structures and most powerful energeticly effective states while fully conceptualizing the intertransformings of those states.

As had other distinguished scientists during the previous third of a century, Lord Snow agreed with me that synergetics held promise of serving as the conceptual bridge to span the chasm between the humanities and sciences. A few months later, Lord Snow went further by making a statement to the English newspapers saying an American architect had recently given him cause to alter his earlier assumption of unspannability of the chasm between the humanities and the sciences, and that he could now accredit that this chasm might indeed be bridged.

Synergetics may permit world democracy to discover for itself that its physical chances of survival and even of comprehensive advantaging for all humanity exist exclusively in science-revealed technology. World-around democracy may become self-educated regarding synergetics' conceptuality. This self teaching will probably be acquired through television's selectively called-in documentary cassettes, and the book Synergetics. If so, educated humanity may come to comprehend and appreciate the naturalness and usefulness of universal technology. Enlightened and inspired humanity may, in turn, come to make wise and long-distance decisions regarding the safe and omni-beneficent uses of technology.

At present, the technology employed by humanity around the world is operating at an average overall efficiency of only 5%. So ignorant is humanity's present use of technology that out of every 100 units of energy expended as oil, coal, or water power, an average of only five units of effectiveness work is realized; 95 units run out the drain.

With the majority of humanity understanding its science and technology, an overall efficiency of 10% may be obtained. At a now technically accomplishable overall efficiency of 10%, all humanity can be living and enjoying whole Earth at a continuously sustainable level, higher than any human beings heretofore ever experienced or dreamt.

Synergetically informed, and employing the plurality of available technologies, humans can sustain that higher living standard for all, while consuming only our daily income of sun-gravity energies -- as wind, wave, waterwheel, tidal, photosynthetic algae and vegetable conversion into electricity, alcohols, methane, and hydrogen, thus permitting us within ten years of this design revolution, to safely forsake both:

(A) the burning of nature's energy savings account, the fossil fuels, and
(B) the burning of parts of our spaceship Earth, itself, i.e., atomic fission or fusion.

The atoms are irreplaceable components of our planet's operating equipment. The atomic equipment of our planet is capital equipment. Continuing to live almost entirely on expenditures of our irreplaceable capital and terrestrial energy savings account when it is technically feasible to live sustainingly (which means for all generations to come) well within our daily sun-gravity energy income will quickly disqualify humanity from further occupation of our planet Earth.

Synergetics may be "just that" relevant. Study the exhibit. Read the book, Synergetics. Examine yourself and mark your own paper. That is what I had to do when, half a century ago, I discovered synergetics. I had to ask myself, "Are you B. Fuller, so important that Universe would secrete all these extraordinary, primitive, rational, lowest number interrelationships and their intertransformabilities just to trap you in a meaningless, but tantalizing cul-de-sac?" My answer was, "No, I am not that important." Instead it was evident that I had indeed discovered Nature's own omnirational coordinate accounting system.

An ever-swifter reassessment by science of the significance of its findings in particle physics powerfully suggests that at about the same time you will have come to agree with me regarding the cosmic significance of synergetics, so, too will a very surprised body of academic scientists. And you, too, as I have can have the fun of beating them to it. The synergetic bridge spanning the chasm between the humanities and sciences is now open for traffic, no toll to pay and a glorious view all the way.

*The Cooper Hewitt exhibit pieces comprised the centerpiece for the traveling Bard College Exhibit, "Harmonizing Nature, Technology and Humanity" exhibited at the Bass Museum in Miami Beach, Florida and at the M.I.T. Museum in Cambridge, Mass. in 1991.