Self-organizing systems

Richard Holloway learnshops at
Mon Aug 23 23:00:05 PDT 1999

It's always amusing to me how we (people) grope to find the right words to
share meaning with one another...and how long a conversation may go on (in a
self-organizing way, one might say) where people continue to say the same
things without synthesizing the meanings that are being shared.

Just a couple of thoughts...

there are many people (and I'll include myself in this category) who find
spirit in all living things...and in the mystery of everything.  it's not
surprising that we find spirit in Open Space, is it?

can we say that open space is alive?  that it manifests body, spirit, mind
and heart?  are these just more symbolic words that mean the same as the
systems words we use?  or is there something "divine" about using
"spiritual" words rather than "scientific" words?

one of the first collection of thoughts on systems thinking can be found in
the I Ching.  I think we find the patterns of spirit and science connecting
in this Book of Changes...and that it reflects and refracts the diverse ways
in which we see and perceive our life and world.  perhaps open space serves
us the same way?


". . .it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what
life expected from us. . .Our answer must consist, not in talk and
meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means
taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to
fulfill the task which is constantly set for each individual." -Viktor

Richard Charles Holloway -
P.O. Box 2361, Olympia, WA 98507 USA Telephone 253.539.4014 or 206.568.7730
Thresholds <>
Meeting Masters <>

----- Original Message -----
From: Michelle Cooper <coopgrp at INTERLYNX.NET>
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 1999 1:12 AM
Subject: Re: Self-organizing systems

Thanks for the references for additional reading and for the richness of
discussion.  I have studied natural science in depth and dedicated the first
20 years of my career to learning and understanding human beings and the
amazing way that nature takes care of itself. I have also studied systems
and systems theories.  Our understanding of systems has evolved
substantially since Ludwig von Bertalanffy first proposed general systems
theories in the '50s. Some of what I have struggled with regarding
self-organizing systems was well stated in Birgitt's submission.

My graduate education introduced me to two paradigms ...totality and
simultaneity.  The totality paradigm incorporates all of the systems based
theories of my profession, which tend to be reductionistic, deal with
quantification and particularize experiences into segments, or systems.
While acknowledging wholeness, the explanation of human experience is
reductionistic.  The simultaneity paradigm  is concerned with wholeness,
transcendence and phenomenology; the lived experience of humans; that
properties of the whole are not those of its parts. "This is not a denial of
interactions between subsystems or between levels of an organization....nor
is intellectual acceptance that man is a system having his own identifiable
oneness a guarantee against the common practice of describing man according
to one or more subsystems, thereby destroying the meaning of man in his
wholeness." (Martha Rogers, 1970).
 The theories are based on quantum physics; that there is interconnectedness
that you cannot separate or break down to explain the experience of the
whole. In fact, the notion of "whole systems" feels like an oxymoron to me.
Shortly after embracing the  ideas of simultaneity, I learned Open Space.  I
had great Ahas about how one could lead in a way that fit within the
simultaneity paradigm, as the prevailing management theories did not fit for
me either.  So, where is all this going?  When we talk about OS
self-organizing systems, I have problem with the self part as stated before,
and I have problem with particularizing the experience into a system.  I
fully agree that people self-organize their day in open space, because
individuals make choices about how they will use their time and the whole of
the day emerges from the patterns created by the individuals coming
together.  The experience that people describe is not just a system - input,
throughput, output, feedback.  It is something far greater that "system"
cannot capture in my mind.  "The Universe is not a collection of objects,
but is an inseparable web of vibrating energy patterns in which no one
component has reality independently from the entirety. Included in the
entirety is the observer." Bell's theorem on the indivisibility of the

 What is emerging for me is that our different paradigms are perhaps shaping
how we perceive and articulate the experience of open space.  I would have
likely agreed with you wholeheartedly 6 years ago before I began the
simultaneity journey, having been a systems theory disciple.  But now, it
does not fit my perception.  I also recognize the limitation of our language
and experience to describe the unquantifiable.

My last thought (for now) is about using the "spirit"  word.  It seems to me
with the plethora of books now on the shelf about spirit and soul in the
workplace, that the time is right to come out of the closet.  Are we being
authentic if we talk about self-organizing systems at the expense of spirit?
Are we operating from a fear base?  What exactly are we afraid of?  While I
am conscious of how I introduce the idea of spirit in conversation with any
client (corporate or not) because it is a value laden word, I always talk
about it because it always shows up in open space.  I am not so certain
about a self-organizing system showing up and I am not sure I would
recognize it if I saw it, despite our conversations here.

Ah, nothing like exercising the gray matter!!! Now I must sleep!

Kind regards

Michelle Cooper, RN, MScN
The Cooper Group Consultants
200 Crestview  Avenue
Ancaster, Ontario
Canada L9G1E2
Telephone -     (905) 648- 4633
Fax -           (905) 648-1763
E-mail          coopgrp at

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