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Nonrelativistic pragmatism and systems thinking

The ties between systems thinking and pragmatism are apparently strong, but the breadth in the philosophy of pragmatism can be confusing.  Within the tradition, one of the threads is called nonrelativistic pragmatism, proposed by systems luminaries C. West Churchman with Russell L. Ackoff, descending from the work of philosopher Edgar A. Singer, Jr.

A concise description of nonrelativistic pragmatism might be as a branch that centers on the entanglement of facts and values, within philosophy of science.  This centering surfaces in an interview of Hilary Putnam, expanded from the two into a “triple entanglement of theory, value, and fact”.

My alma mater was the University of Pennsylvania. The first teacher who really influenced me there was a pragmatist. His is an interesting story. His name was C. West Churchman. (I do not know what his first name was, because he obviously did not like it.) He was a philosopher of science for a while, but then he eventually left the field of philosophy, and became Professor of Operations Research at the University of California. He was a pragmatist, and he was a student – which makes me a “grandstudent” – of a philosopher named E. A. Singer Jr., who was in turn a student of William James. Singer created a pragmatist tradition at the University of Pennsylvania. The other pragmatist at that point – she did not even have tenure, she was just an assistant professor but later she became a full professor – was Elizabeth Flower.

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The ties between systems thinking and pragmatism are apparently strong, but the breadth in the philosophy of pragmatism can be confusing.  Within the tradition, one of the threads is called nonrelativistic pragmatism, proposed by systems luminaries C. West Churchman with Russell L. Ackoff, descending from the work of philosopher Edgar A. Singer, Jr.

A concise description of nonrelativistic pragmatism might be as a branch that centers on the entanglement of facts and values, within philosophy of science.  This centering surfaces in an interview of Hilary Putnam, expanded from the two into a “triple entanglement of theory, value, and fact”.

My alma mater was the University of Pennsylvania. The first teacher who really influenced me there was a pragmatist. His is an interesting story. His name was C. West Churchman. (I do not know what his first name was, because he obviously did not like it.) He was a philosopher of science for a while, but then he eventually left the field of philosophy, and became Professor of Operations Research at the University of California. He was a pragmatist, and he was a student – which makes me a “grandstudent” – of a philosopher named E. A. Singer Jr., who was in turn a student of William James. Singer created a pragmatist tradition at the University of Pennsylvania. The other pragmatist at that point – she did not even have tenure, she was just an assistant professor but later she became a full professor – was Elizabeth Flower.

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Inquiring systems and asking the right question | Mitroff and Linstone (1993)

Inputs, Operator, Outputs, Guarantor

Fit the people around an organization; or an organization around the people? Working backwards, say @MitroffCrisis + #HaroldLinstone, from current concrete choices to uncertain futures, surfaces strategic assumptions in a collective decision, better than starting with an abstract scorecard to rank candidates. The Unbounded Mind is an easier-reading follow-on to The Design of Inquiry Systems by C. West Churchman.

This scorecard metaphor shows up in the second of five ways of knowing (i.e. inquiring systems)

Chapter 3 is “The World as a Formula: The Second Way of Knowing”. A case study commonly used in business school education is described.

To illustrate the use and meaning of the Analytic-Deductive IS in a social realm, we’ll apply it to a situation that on the surface at least is as “simple” as the question that occupied us in the last chapter. There is a somewhat dated yet classic case in the Harvard Business Review that provides a perfect depiction of the Analytic-Deductive IS. [5] Four men are running for the presidency of a fictitious life insurance company, Zenith Life. Background information on their strengths and weaknesses, families, career history, skills, and so on, is given for all four, although we do not receive the same information for each of them. Thus, we know more about one candidate in one category than we do about another. Also, the history and current nature of Zenith Life itself, its prospects and problems, its opportunities as well as threats, are described.

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Fit the people around an organization; or an organization around the people? Working backwards, say @MitroffCrisis + #HaroldLinstone, from current concrete choices to uncertain futures, surfaces strategic assumptions in a collective decision, better than starting with an abstract scorecard to rank candidates. The Unbounded Mind is an easier-reading follow-on to The Design of Inquiry Systems by C. West Churchman.

This scorecard metaphor shows up in the second of five ways of knowing (i.e. inquiring systems)

Chapter 3 is “The World as a Formula: The Second Way of Knowing”. A case study commonly used in business school education is described.

To illustrate the use and meaning of the Analytic-Deductive IS in a social realm, we’ll apply it to a situation that on the surface at least is as “simple” as the question that occupied us in the last chapter. There is a somewhat dated yet classic case in the Harvard Business Review that provides a perfect depiction of the Analytic-Deductive IS. [5] Four men are running for the presidency of a fictitious life insurance company, Zenith Life. Background information on their strengths and weaknesses, families, career history, skills, and so on, is given for all four, although we do not receive the same information for each of them. Thus, we know more about one candidate in one category than we do about another. Also, the history and current nature of Zenith Life itself, its prospects and problems, its opportunities as well as threats, are described.

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The Meta-design of Dialogues as Inquiring Systems

Dialogic design and systems thinking can be closely related, although not everyone appreciates the ties.  For the Design with Dialogue community, at the invitation of Peter Jones, we jointly organized a workshop based on some ideas that I had previously brought together in teaching in Finland.  I’ve posted the slides — both with builds and as printable — over on the Coevolving Commons.  For people who weren’t there, I can provide an outline of the activities of the three hours.

After introducing ourselves in the circle, and speaking about dialogues that each of us might be interested in pursuing, I provided an explanation of the Map of Ignorance, as described in the Curriculum on Medical Ignorance by Witte, Kerwin and Witte in the University of Arizona College of Medicine.  We walked through the interpretation of Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Errors.

Unknown unknowns raise questions about what might or might not be knowable.

Taboos and denials typically don’t enter a dialogue unless the facilitator ensures that they do.

Dialogic design and systems thinking can be closely related, although not everyone appreciates the ties.  For the Design with Dialogue community, at the invitation of Peter Jones, we jointly organized a workshop based on some ideas that I had previously brought together in teaching in Finland.  I’ve posted the slides — both with builds and as printable — over on the Coevolving Commons.  For people who weren’t there, I can provide an outline of the activities of the three hours.

After introducing ourselves in the circle, and speaking about dialogues that each of us might be interested in pursuing, I provided an explanation of the Map of Ignorance, as described in the Curriculum on Medical Ignorance by Witte, Kerwin and Witte in the University of Arizona College of Medicine.  We walked through the interpretation of Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Errors.

Unknown unknowns raise questions about what might or might not be knowable.

Taboos and denials typically don’t enter a dialogue unless the facilitator ensures that they do.

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    • daviding: “Is it only deep systems scientists we would recognize that t…” June 1, 2024
      Is it only deep systems scientists we would recognize that the finale episode of Star Trek Discovery, titled "Life Itself", is the also the name of the 2005 book by Robert Rosen?Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry Into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life, Robert Rosen, Columbia University Press at https://cup.columbia.edu/book/life-itself/9780231075657 #JudithRosen knows! https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Life,_Itself_(episode)
    • daviding: “Pre-announcing April 30 Dialogic Drinks session I'm leading …” April 23, 2024
      Pre-announcing April 30 Dialogic Drinks session I'm leading on "#Yinyang and Daojia into #SystemsThinking through Changes", online 18:30 Singapore, 11:30 London, 6:30am Toronto. Repeating May 2, 8:00pm ET. Official #EQLab notifications https://www.eqlab.co/newsletter-signup
    • daviding: “Diachrony (or diachronic shifts) resurrects a word from 1857…” April 10, 2024
      Diachrony (or diachronic shifts) resurrects a word from 1857, better expressing *changes through time*. A social practice publication in 1998 contrasts synchronic with diachronic. https://ingbrief.wordpress.com/2024/04/10/diachronic-diachrony/
    • daviding: “Web video introduction of 15 minutes for 1-hour Lunch and Le…” March 22, 2024
      Web video introduction of 15 minutes for 1-hour Lunch and Learn #CentreForSocialInnovationToronto on "Systems Changes Dialogues for Social Innovation" invites practitioners for upcoming monthly meetings. Evocative animated images, details deferred to conversations with mentors. https://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/systems-changes-dialogues-csi/#SystemsThinking
    • daviding: “Web video of slides from "From Unfreezing-Refreezing, to Sys…” March 21, 2024
      Web video of slides from "From Unfreezing-Refreezing, to Systems Changes Learning" for Dialogic Drinks of #EQLab represents only 1/5 of the time compared to peer-led discussions. Concise hosting called for brevity, and richer presentations. https://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/from-unfreezing-refreezing-eq-lab/ #SystemsThinking
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    • The Nature and Application of the Daodejing | Ames and Hall (2003)
      Ames and Hall (2003) provide some tips for those studyng the DaoDeJing.
    • Diachronic, diachrony
      Finding proper words to express system(s) change(s) can be a challenge. One alternative could be diachrony. The Oxford English dictionary provides two definitions for diachronic, the first one most generally related to time. (The second is linguistic method) diachronic ADJECTIVE Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “diachronic (adj.), sense 1,” July 2023, https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/3691792233. For completeness, prochronic relates “to […]
    • Introduction, “Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2”, edited by F. E. Emery (1981)
      The selection of readings in the “Introduction” to Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, volume 2, Penguin (1981), edited by Fred E. Emery, reflects a turn from 1969 when a general systems theory was more fully entertained, towards an urgency towards changes in the world that were present in 1981. Systems thinking was again emphasized in contrast […]
    • Introduction, “Systems Thinking: Selected Readings”, edited by F. E. Emery (1969)
      In reviewing the original introduction for Systems Thinking: Selected Readings in the 1969 Penguin paperback, there’s a few threads that I only recognize, many years later. The tables of contents (disambiguating various editions) were previously listed as 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings. — begin paste — Introduction In the selection of papers for this […]
    • Concerns with the way systems thinking is used in evaluation | Michael C. Jackson, OBE | 2023-02-27
      In a recording of the debate between Michael Quinn Patton and Michael C. Jackson on “Systems Concepts in Evaluation”, Patton referenced four concepts published in the “Principles for effective use of systems thinking in evaluation” (2018) by the Systems in Evaluation Topical Interest Group (SETIG) of the American Evaluation Society. The four concepts are: (i) […]
    • Quality Criteria for Action Research | Herr, Anderson (2015)
      How might the quality of an action research initiative be evaluated? — begin paste — We have linked our five validity criteria (outcome, process, democratic, catalytic, and dialogic) to the goals of action research. Most traditions of action research agree on the following goals: (a) the generation of new knowledge, (b) the achievement of action-oriented […]
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    • 2024/05 Moments May 2024
      Busy May with art university graduate exhibition, travel to UK seeing Edinburgh, Hull, Manchester, London, returning home for wedding in Lefroy, annual cemetery visits with family, and spending time with extended family in from Chicago.
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  • RSS on Media Queue

    • What to Do When It’s Too Late | David L. Hawk | 2024
      David L. Hawk (American management theorist, architect, and systems scientist) has been hosting a weekly television show broadcast on Bold Brave Tv from the New York area on Wednesdays 6pm ET, remotely from his home in Iowa. Live, callers can join…Read more ›
    • 2021/06/17 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 2
      Following the first day lecture on Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1 for the Global University for Sustainability, Keekok Lee continued on a second day on some topics: * Anatomy as structure; physiology as function (and process); * Process ontology, and thing ontology; * Qi ju as qi-in-concentrating mode, and qi san as qi-in-dissipsating mode; and […]
    • 2021/06/16 Keekok Lee | Philosophy of Chinese Medicine 1
      The philosophy of science underlying Classical Chinese Medicine, in this lecture by Keekok Lee, provides insights into ways in which systems change may be approached, in a process ontology in contrast to the thing ontology underlying Western BioMedicine. Read more ›
    • 2021/02/02 To Understand This Era, You Need to Think in Systems | Zeynep Tufekci with Ezra Klein | New York Times
      In conversation, @zeynep with @ezraklein reveal authentic #SystemsThinking in (i) appreciating that “science” is constructed by human collectives, (ii) the west orients towards individual outcomes rather than population levels; and (iii) there’s an over-emphasis on problems of the moment, and…Read more ›
    • 2019/04/09 Art as a discipline of inquiry | Tim Ingold (web video)
      In the question-answer period after the lecture, #TimIngold proposes art as a discipline of inquiry, rather than ethnography. This refers to his thinking On Human Correspondence. — begin paste — [75m26s question] I am curious to know what art, or…Read more ›
    • 2019/10/16 | “Bubbles, Golden Ages, and Tech Revolutions” | Carlota Perez
      How might our society show value for the long term, over the short term? Could we think about taxation over time, asks @carlotaprzperez in an interview: 92% for 1 day; 80% within 1 month; 50%-60% tax for 1 year; zero tax for 10 years.Read more ›
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