Buckminster Fuller used his deep understanding of geometry to help us understand systems. Many of the things he taught have entered the mainstream of thinking. His unique approach was that the shape of systems and their models are essential to understanding the behaviors and interactions we see in Universe.
His main system teachings include:
- Each of us and all that we interact with are systems. Our thoughts are systems. Everything we perceive is a system.
- Systems have shape and are distinct from their surroundings.
- All systems have an inside and an outside. Therefore, systems have a minimum of four corners or nodes. These connect to form a tetrahedron
- The connections between the nodes are known as relations, and are what holds the system together. A relation may be a flow, a force, or a field.
- Systems are not closed: at their boundary, every node is linked to its surroundings
- All system corners are ‘leaky’ – they either have extra energy or need energy.
- Systems exhibit synergy: “there are comprehensive system behaviors in nature unpredicted by the behaviors of the systems’ components, a phenomenon known to scientists as synergy” (Fuller, 1963, p. 69).
In this figure, we can see that Plato’s triad of symmetry, truth and beauty only becomes a system when you add the observer.
The first step in perceiving systems is to focus on the situation of interest. As you bring your awareness to the challenge, you ‘tune-in’ to the appropriate systems. Make sure to zoom out and perceive larger systems, and zoom in to see relevant systems within the situation.
The system properties and characteristics are due to what Bucky called generalized principles: laws of Universe that are true everywhere and at all times. For example, everything we see is a particular configuration of energy, material. The form of the configuration is due to generalized principles.
Every situation is made up of interacting systems. What are the ways that systems interact within and with each other?
Each of us is a part of Universe. Everything we sense and interact with is distant in time and space from us. Yet we are continually coupling to other systems. This coupling can be very loose, like the atoms of air in a room. Or the coupling can be flexible, like molecules of water flowing.
At times we orbit a system like a political movement or way of making art. Our orbit is stable when the force that attracts is dynamically balanced by the force of flying away. If attraction between two systems is stronger then one falls into the other. When outward motion is stronger than the attraction, then we fly away from the other. This is an example of precession or systems coupling.
“We find that precession is completely regenerative one brings out the other. So I gave you the dropping the stone in the water, and the wave went out that way. And this way beget that way. And that way beget that way. And that’s why your circular wave emanates. Once you begin to get into “precession” you find yourself understanding phenomena that you’ve seen a stone falling in the water all of your life, and have never really known why the wave does just what it does.” RBF