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Amy C. Edmondson A Fuller Explanation


Buckminster Fuller has been alternately hailed as the most innovative thinker of our time and dismissed as an incomprehensible maverick, but there is a consistent thread running through all the wildly disperate reactions. One point about which there is little disagreement is the difficulty of understanding Bucky. "It was great! What did he say?" is the oft-repeated joke, describing the reaction of a typical enraptured listener after one of Fuller's lectures.

      Not surprisingly then, Fuller's mathematical writing has not attracted a mass audience. Rather, synergetics has become a sort of Fuller proving ground, into which only a few scientific-minded types dare to venture. "Oh, I'll never be able to understand it then" has been the response of countless people upon learning that the subject of my book is synergetics. This reaction would have saddened Bucky immensely: he was so sure his geometry was appropriate for five-year-olds! However, such shyness is understandable; deciphering Fuller's two volumes, Synergetics and Synergetics 2, requires a sizable commitment of time and patience from even the most dedicated reader. Study groups have gone a long way toward helping individuals unravel the idiosyncratic, hyphenated prose of these two works, but the task, still arduous, is not for everyone. However, as those who dared it will have discovered, the major concepts presented in Fuller's intimidating books are not inherently difficult, and much of synergetics can be explained in simple, familiar terms. That is the purpose of A Fuller Explanation.

      Synergetics, in the broadest terms, is the study of spatial complexity, and as such is an inherently comprehensive discipline. Designers, architects, and scientists can easily find applications of this study in their work; however, the larger significance of Fuller's geometry may be less visible. Experience with synergetics encourages a new way of approaching and solving problems. Its emphasis on visual and spatial phenomena combined with Fuller's holistic approach fosters the kind of lateral thinking which so often leads to creative breakthroughs.

      A Fuller explanation is geared to readers with no mathematical background, but of course it can be read at many levels. Even if one is familiar with some of the concepts, Fuller's unique interpretation and development of them will be enlightening. This book should appeal to anyone interested in patterns and design and how things work.

      Synergetics is also fascinating as a reflection of Fuller himself; his wide-eyed appreciation of nature and human invention alike exudes from his expression of these geometric concepts. The primary purpose of this volume is thus to present the nuts and bolts of synergetics, the tools with which to continue exploring this discipline; but almost as importantly, I hope to convey the spirit of Fuller's inquiry into the organizing principles of nature.

      When Bucky Fuller looked around, he saw, not trees and roads and butterflies, but a miraculous web of interacting patterns. As he describes these patterns, using his peculiar blend of antiquated phrases and electronic-age jargon, one cannot help concluding that no child was ever as startled as the young Bucky to discover that the world is not what it appears, that the apparently solid and lifeless rock is a bundle of energetic atomic activity. He never lost that awe. Synergetics is his attempt to give some of it away.

      I have included (along with explanations and definitions) many of Fuller's own descriptions and invented terms. Although I set out to interpret and explain Bucky in ordinary language—a task I found increasingly tricky as I became more deeply involved in the project—I began to sense a deep appropriateness to Bucky's peculiar phraseology. Many passages that seem convoluted at first reading later seem to express his meaning more precisely than could any substitutes. As I quote Fuller often in this book, readers will be able to judge for themselves.

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