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Amy C. Edmondson
A Fuller Explanation
Chapter 3, Systems and Synergy
pages 30 through 33

Limits of Resolution as Part of the Whole-Systems Approach

Another important aspect of Fuller's systems concept is tune-in-ability, which deals with limits of resolution and is best explained by analogy. Fuller's ready example, as implied by the term, would be to remind us of the radio waves of all different amplitude and frequency, filling the room wherever you happen to be reading this page. These waves are as much a part of physical reality as the chair you are sitting in, but the specific energy pattern is such that you cannot tune in to the programs without help from a radio. Information and energy are scattered chaotically throughout your room, mostly undetected, except for the small fraction (chairs, visible light, and so on) that can be directly perceived by human senses. You can turn on the radio and thereby tune in to one program (one system), temporarily ignoring the rest.

      Boundaries change all the time as new elements are incorporated into a system, or as the focus zooms in to investigate a component in greater detail. New levels of complexity reveal distinct new systems. For example, we might look at the system called your living room, and then want to consider its function in the bigger system, your house, or conversely, zoom in to investigate the red overstuffed chair, and the details of its carpentry and upholstery; or further still, one nail might be of interest as a system. We can also go back out—to your town, your state, etc. The concept of tune-in-ability allows us to treat a set of events or items as a system despite the involvement of many concurrent factors on other levels.

      What kinds of things constitute systems? Tetrahedron, crocodile, room, chair, you, thought,... . Wait.

      What about thoughts? We recall Fuller's lifelong effort never to use mankind's precious tool of language carelessly: "I discipline myself to define every word I use; else I must give it up." In a 1975 videotaped lecture, he explains that he would not allow himself the use of any word for which he did not have "a clear experientially referenced definition." (4) Such an effort requires enormous discipline to avoid automatic associations and thereby enable an objective analysis of each word. It extends to the most basic words and actions—even "thinking." Fuller formulates his definition analytically, asking, "What is it I am conscious of doing, when I say I am thinking"? We may not be able to say what it is, but we should be able to specify the procedure.

      Thinking, he explains, starts with "spontaneous preoccupation"; the process is never deliberate initially. We then choose to "accommodate the trend," through conscious dismissal of "irrelevancies" which are temporarily held off to the side, as they do not seem to belong in the current thought. Fuller places "irrelevancies" in two categories: experiences too large or too infrequent to influence the tuned-in thought, and those too small and too frequent to play a part. The process he describes is similar to tuning a radio, with its progressive dismissal of irrelevant (other frequency) events, ultimately leaving only the few experiences which are "lucidly relevant," and thus interconnected by their relationships.

      Thinking isolates events; "understanding" then interconnects them. "understanding is structure," Fuller declares, for it means establishing the relationships between events.

      A "thought" is then a "relevant set," or a "considerable set": experiences related to each other in some way. All the rest of experience is outside the set-not tuned in. A thought therefore defines an insideness and an outsideness; it is a "conceptual subdivision of Universe." "I'll call it a system," declares Bucky; "I now have a geometric description of a thought."

      This is the conclusion that initially led Fuller to wonder how many "events" were necessary to create insideness and outsideness. Realizing that a thought required at least enough "somethings" to define an isolated system, it seemed vitally important to know the minimum number—the terminal condition. He thereby arrived at the tetrahedron. "This gave me great power of definition," he recalls, both in terms of understanding more about "thinking" and by isolating the theoretical minimum case, with its four events and six relationships.

      One example of the development of a thought—by no means a minimal thought—could be found in what to cook for dinner. Walking to the grocery store, you notice that the leaves of the maple trees are turning autumn-red, but you consciously push that observation off to the side to be considered later, as it does not relate to the pressing issue of dinner. You begin to pull in the various relevant items: the food that you already have at home that could become a part of this meal, what you had for dinner last night, special items that might be featured by the grocery store, favorite foods, how they look, ideas about nutrition, certain foods that go well together, and so on. Out of this jumble of related events, a structure starts to take form. After a while, dinner is planned, and your mind is free to attend to some of the other thoughts waiting quietly in the side chambers.

      This kind of digression is typical of Fuller's discourse, both written and oral. Such juxtapositions of geometry and philosophy are quite deliberate, for synergetics strives to identify structural similarities among phenomena—both physical and metaphysical. Fuller encourages us to seek these patterns, which we often miss because of the narrow focus of our attention.

      To conclude: Geometry is the science of systems—which are themselves defined by relationships. (Geometry is therefore the study of relationships; this makes it sound relevant to quite a lot!) A system is necessarily polyhedral; as a finite aggregate of interrelated events, it has all the qualifications. Relationships can be polyhedrally diagramrned in an effort to understand the behavior of a given whole system. Along these same lines, Fuller has described synergetics as the "exploratory strategy of starting with the whole and the known behavior of some of its parts and the progressive discovery of the integral unknowns along with the progressive comprehension of the hierarchy of generalized principles" (152.00). This mouthful can readily be identified as Fuller's elaboration of Eddington's definition of science as "the systematic attempt to set in order the facts of experience." (5)

      Thinking in terms of systems is a crucial part of Fuller's mathematics. The isolation of systems enables the description of local processes and relationships without reference to an absolute origin—an indispensable tool in a scenario universe. And finally, we pay particular attention to how Fuller's geometry emerges—its principles developing from the basis of the process of thinking. Hence the title of Fuller's opus: Synergetics: The Geometry of Thinking.

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