Sunday, June 7, 2015

Principles of Complexity (System) Sciences

Back in 2008, I wrote about the work of Alder Stone Fuller, an independent, freelance educator who teaches a theory of sciences and mathematics collectively referred to as the system sciences and how it contributes to our understanding of abrupt climate change. I consider Alder’s work profound, important, and—for the majority of us who were indoctrinated in our schools to regard nature as a machine to be studied by dissecting its parts—paradigm-shifting. 
One of the most vital applications of complexity sciences is in understanding our self-regulating planet, arguably the most important scientific concept of the 21st century. If we as a species do not quickly get to know it conceptually and start treating it like it’s our home instead of some nebulous thing called “the environment,” our probability of survival as a species will decrease significantly. The magnitude of the global heating problem and the rapidity with which it is imposing itself upon our environment is overwhelming. 
Alder left Eugene in 2010, moving to Maine where he established Ermah Ge, a new education collective dedicated to teaching how nature works using principles from system sciences, biosciences, geophysiology (aka Earth system science), evolution, and climatology, and to accelerate mitigation and community resilience via adaptability to abrupt climate change. The name Ermah Ge is a portmanteau, consisting of the acronym Ermah (Earth’s metabolism and homeostasis, which is the best short description of Gaia, our self-regulating planet, explained by Gaia theory) and Ge, which is the root of geometry, geography, geology, geophysiology, and an ancient spelling of Gaia. 
I’m pleased to announce Alder is producing a new online course entitled Complexity (System) 101, which will be Ermah Ge's flagship introduction to system sciences. He’s posted a free overview (comprised of three parts totaling approximately 2.5 hours). Eventually, the complete course will include 12-14 total hours of lectures/slide shows. Alder is offering Complexity 101 with a tiered pricing structure, either at one-third (video only) or one-half (with unlimited online Q&A discussion) the cost of his live instruction. The online version of Complexity 101 will be available on demand anywhere, anytime. 
Complexity (System) 101 is the culmination of over 15 years of Alder’s work since he first embarked on his freelance teaching mission here in Eugene. He designed the course to be accessible to any adult from any background. In his words, it contains “leading edge principles from complexity (system) sciences that lead to profound, awe-inspiring new views of nature, Earth, life and human societies, as well as laying the foundation to understand abrupt climate change (from a systems perspective, which matters GREATLY).” The course is the portal to the entire suite of his advanced Earth Studies courses. 
Alder is seeking as many enrollees in Complexity (System) 101 as possible, and requesting early enrollment to help him financially as he further develops the course. Many have found his free introductory lectures to be mini-courses in themselves, and worth watching—even if they choose to not enroll in the course itself. I’m doing my part to spread the word about Alder’s free overview with the hope that many who take the time to view it will in turn invest in the cost of Complexity (System) 101. 
The importance of complexity theory and systems thinking is that students and scientists from radically different disciplines can communicate and share knowledge about their respective systems in an understandable way. Understanding the fundamental principles allows anyone to use examples from any discipline—physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, ecology, economics, sociology, geology, geography, geometry, astronomy, cosmology, cognitive sciences, climatology, meteorology, astronomy—and apply them to virtually any particular system. Students of one discipline can intuitively understand the behavior of systems studied in other disciplines without detailed knowledge of those disciplines. 
Architects must envision a future world in which our lives have been dramatically and irrevocably transformed by the effects of global warming; however, we are blind without an appreciation for complexity theory and systems science. If we understand what is coming, we can prepare for it and make the transition far more effectively. Alder’s program can help people and communities understand the coming changes and how to shock-proof our systems to meet basic needs like water, food, shelter, energy, and health care. Such an understanding is fundamental to building new relationships with our planet, crucial to our survival as a species. 
Architects are expected to comprehend and synthesize an immense amount of information; however, if that knowledge fails to consider the full complexity and interconnectedness of the big picture, we’re handicapped and cannot truly function with the best interests of those we work for in mind. I highly recommend all architects acquire a basic understanding of complexity theory and systems science. Check out Alder’s free overview at and judge for yourself how essential they are to your work and outlook toward life and our planet.

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