New Year’s Eve 2020, Styrsö, Sweden

Text & Photo © JE Nilsson & CM Cordeiro 2019

My reads of interest have for some years now, revolved around unified theories, amongst which are Integral Theory by Ken Wilber, the unified theory of acceptance and use of technology, UTAUT by Viswanath Venkatesh et al. and general systems theory, GST from Ludwig von Bertalanffy, whose ideas were carried forward, amongst others, by Fritjof Capra. The turning point of curiosity on this new year’s eve is the realization that systems theories are too, inherently axiomatic and as such, need a system or unified foundation of their own.

This evening’s read and reflection comes from a 2015 paper written by Cabrera et al. [1] A unifying theory of systems thinking with psychosocial applications in which the authors address the very challenge of how the field of systems thinking is intrinsically methodologically plural. Pluralism is the result of the processes of diversification, specailization and differentiation in scientific innovation over time. In this context, plurality of methods and plurality of interpretations both create and perpetuate each other, emerging and growing as fractals. How then to reconcile universalism and pluralism?

In part answer to this question of reconciliation, both of unified systems theories pertaining towards a universal encompassing a landscape of pluralities, Cabrera et al. [1] focuses attention on the concept of DSRP – distinctions, systems, relationships and perspectives. Distinctions refer to the exercise of defining and demarcating, making oneself aware of what is Other. Some distinctions imply a part-whole conceptualisation, where what is part is also whole that exist within, if not create the system. In that sense, the part-whole conceptualisation is also the realisation of non-linear relationships, where parts and wholes in each context have the capacity to influence each other in differing intensities towards differing outcomes over time. The extent to which a socio-ecological challenge is addressed efficiently for example, can then be said to be dependent upon the perspective taken with regards to the relationships of influence between the parts and wholes, in their various contexts.

If perspective could be likened to looking through and focusing a lens, then the beauty about perspective taking is the potential to shift focus and adjust the focal point of the lens. This evening, I find myself at that point of contemplation where what piques my interest most is to develop the capacity and ability to perspectivise and re-perspectivise.

On the point of perspectives, one of the most fun paragraphs of read I’ve come across is written by the 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk, Eihei Dōgen in his collected works, Shōbōgenzō. Dōgen’s “Genjōkōan” (1233) [2] reads:

For the self to carry itself forward and practice/verify the myriad things is delusion; for the myriad things to advance and practice/verify the self is enlightenment. Those who greatly enlighten delusion are buddhas; those who are greatly deluded about enlightenment are sentient beings. There are those who are further enlightened beyond enlightenment; there are those who are yet further deluded amid delusion.

From the 1200s till today, that the concepts of DSRP (in search of the universal that weaves in integral manner the pluralities) dovetails with Dōgen’s thoughts, is something I find heartening and valuable in curious pursuit.

[1] Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L. & Powers, E. (2015). A Unifying Theory of Systems Thinking with Psychosocial Applications. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 32(5), 534-545.
[2] Kim, H-J (2007). Dôgen on Meditation and Thinking: A Reflection of his view of Zen. State University of New York Press. [Chapter PDF, SUNY Press]