Previous Page [ To Contents ] Next Page

Amy C. Edmondson
A Fuller Explanation
Chapter 1, Return to Modelability
pages 1 through 3


Return to Modelability

Synergetic geometry is the product of a mind as comfortable with mathematical precision as with the intuitive leaps associated with visual and spatial conceptualizing. Buckminster Fuller was guided predominantly by intuition throughout his 87 years; nonetheless, he was entirely at ease with the painstaking exactitude of numerical calculation—such as that required in the development of the geodesic dome in the early 1940s. Years before the pocket calculator, he produced volumes of intricate trigonometric solutions, manipulating eight-digit numbers with the patience and precision of a monk. However, the peculiar language of Fuller's mathematical writings quickly betrays the intuitive influence and all but conceals that of the hard-nosed engineer. Buckminster Fuller was both the pragmatic Yankee mechanic and the enigmatic mystic, and synergetics is the product of that combination.

      Above all, he was driven by curiosity—and found nature a far more compelling teacher than the textbooks in his Milton, Massachusetts, schoolhouse. Frustrated by the apparent lack of a connection between conventional mathematics and reality, young "Bucky" Fuller adopted his own approach. The resulting self-directed exploration into pattern and structure became the most powerful influence in his remarkable career as inventor, architect, engineer, and philosopher, and produced a geometrical system that provides useful background for problem-solving of any kind.

      Synergetics is the discipline hiding behind Fuller's fantastic visions of a sustainable future. These reliable patterns were the source of his unshakable confidence in his design-science philosophy, which—in short—upholds that innovative application of the principles governing nature's behavior can insure ample life support for all humanity. While many people around the world have been exposed to Fuller's ideas and inventions, few have understood or even been aware of the mathematical principles underlying the elegant efficiency of structures such as the Octet Truss and geodesic dome. Happily, these principles are easily accessible once you get into the spirit of Fuller's approach: synergetics is a "hands-on" branch of mathematics.

      However, listening to one of Fuller's all-encompassing lectures, you might wonder when the "hands-on" part begins. Tangibility is not a prominent feature in his spell-binding discourse, the subject of which is no less than "humans in universe." He challenges, in the course of a few hours, age-old assumptions about our lives and institutions, asking us to reconsider the most commonplace aspects of experience. Some of his observations are stated so simply, you may find yourself wondering, "Why haven't I thought about that before"? For example:

      How many of you have said to your children, "darling, look at the beautiful sun going down"? [A show of many hands.] "Well, we've known for five-hundred years that the sun isn't going down, and yet we consider it practical to keep on lying to our children!


      When I was born in 1895, reality was everything you could see, smell, touch and hear. The world was thought to be absolutely self-evident. When I was three years old, the electron was discovered. That was the first invisible. It didn't get in any of the newspapers; (nobody thought that would be important!) Today 99.99% of everything that affects our lives cannot be detected by the human senses. We live in a world of invisibles.

And later, he takes his keys out of his pocket and carelessly tosses them in the air; gravity takes care of the landing.

      Nature doesn't have to have department meetings to decide what to do with those keys, or how to grow a turnip. She knows just what to do. It must be that nature has only one department, one coordinating system. (2)

      These simple truths each relate to different aspects of synergetic geometry. But for all his lighter anecdotes, Fuller's underlying message could not have been more serious:

      The fact that 99 percent of humanity does not understand nature is the prime reason for humanity's failure to exercise its option to attain universally sustainable physical success on this planet. The prime barrier to humanity's discovery and comprehension of nature is the obscurity of the mathematical language of science. Fortunately, however, nature is not using the strictly imaginary, awkward, and unrealistic coordinate system adopted by and taught by present-day academic science. (000.125b)

Nature is instead using the principles embodied in synergetics, which thus provides the way to eradicate this lethal ignorance. Claiming to have discovered no less than the mathematical system that describes the coordination of physical and metaphysical phenomena alike—that is, of both energy and thought—Fuller was urgent in his insistence that we study these principles:

      I am confident that humanity's survival depends on all of our willingness to comprehend feelingly the way nature works. (2)

Previous Page [ To Contents ] Next Page