Essay by Andrew Sheng: “Modern science arose by breaking down complex problems into their parts. As Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist, wrote in his 1984 foreword to the chemist Ilya Prigogine’s classic book “Order out of Chaos”: “One of the most highly developed skills in contemporary Western civilization is dissection: the split-up of problems into their smallest possible components. We are good at it. So good, we often forget to put the pieces back together again.”
Specialization produces efficiency in production and output. But one unfortunate result is that silos produce a partial perspective from specialist knowledge; very few take a system-wide view on how the parts are related to the whole. When the parts do not fit or work together, the system may break down. As behavioral economist Daniel Kahnemann put it: “We can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.”
Silos make group collective action more difficult; nation-states, tribes, communities and groups have different ways of knowing and different repositories of knowledge. A new collective mental map is needed, one that moves away from classical Newtonian science, with its linear and mechanical worldview, toward a systems-view of life. The ecologists Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi argue that “the major problems of our time — energy, the environment, climate change, food security, financial security — cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent.”
“Siloed thinking created many of our problems with inequality, injustice and planetary damage.”
A complex, non-linear, systemic view of life sees the whole as a constant interaction between the small and the large: diverse parts that are cooperating and competing at the same time. This organic view of life coincides with the ancient perspective found in numerous cultures — including Chinese, Indian, native Australian and Amerindian — that man and nature are one.
In short, modern Western science has begun to return to the pre-Enlightenment worldview that saw man, God and Earth in somewhat mystic entanglement. The late Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen argued the world was made up of “open giant complex systems” operating within larger open giant complex systems. Human beings themselves are open giant complex systems — every brain has billions of neurons connected to each other through trillions of pathways — continually exchanging and processing information with other humans and the environment. Life is much more complex, dynamic and uncertain than we once assumed.
To describe this dynamic, complex and uncertain systemic whole, we need to evolve trans-disciplinary thinking that integrates the natural, social, biological sciences and arts by transcending disciplinary boundaries. Qian concluded that the only way to describe such systemic complexity and uncertainty is to integrate quantitative with qualitative narratives, exactly what the Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller advocates for in “Narrative Economics.”…(More)”.