Synergetics Contemporary View

Synergetics - A Contemporary View

A questionnaire, listing the above five questions, was sent out this Spring to a select group of associates of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. We are pleased to present a montage of their responses below. The authors of the following musings on synergetics range from close friends and colleagues of Buckminster Fuller to latter day admirers who knew him only through the legacy he left. This group represents individuals who have surrounded themselves with the excitement and discovery of synergetics through application via architecture, model making and teaching. It also represents individuals who have taken a more objective, quantitative approach to understanding Bucky's exploration of "nature's coordinate system," discovering in the process the human and experiential core represented by his "geometry of thinking."

Although the answers to the questions posed are varied, this unique group of individuals would perhaps all agree that it is human experience that lies at the heart of synergetics, a liminal field that has not yet received contemporary acknowledgement of its riches. The following list, presented in alphabetical order, will introduce this growing community of men and women who, separately and in some cases together, strive toward a collective definition of synergetics.

  • Ed Applewhite is Buckminster Fuller's friend of 35 years and Collaborator on the two volumes of Synergetics. He is editor of the four volume Synergetics Dictionary and author of Cosmic Fishing and the newly released Paradise Mislaid.
  • Jay Baldwin, former colleague of Buckminster Fuller, has built many geodesic domes, including his own invention, the "pillow dome," a transparent, insulated dome [featured in a 1985 Trimtab issue on Shelter]. He has been the long-time technical editor of the Whole Earth Review and authored recent articles on theWorld GameDymaxion Car and the Dymaxion House.
  • William Becker, Chair of Industrial Design at University of Illinois at Chicago, has done significant work with modular housing design based on "bubble geometry." Due to his influence, synergetics has been integrated into the core curriculum for the Industrial Design Program at UIC.
  • Ted Campbell, former volunteer at the Buckminster Fuller Institute, has been working with synergetics for many years.
  • Kiyoshi Kuromiya, was Buckminster Fuller's adjuvant for Critical Path and the editor of Bucky's final manuscript, Cosmography (due out this Summer). He is president of the "Critical Path Project" in Philadelphia and plans to open the Fuller Information Exchange (FIX) electronic bulletin board this Summer (please see bulletin board section of this issue of Trimtab)
  • Medard Gabel, President of World Game Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, worked with RBF in the 1960s and 70s in the developement ofWorld Game and authored books related to World Game, Earth Energy and Everyone and Ho-Ping, Food for Everyone.
  • Robert Gray who is part of an active synergetics group in Binghamton, NY, has compiled listings of entries on RBF from the Science and Social Science Citation Indexes and has begun errata notes on Synergetics and Synergetics 2.
  • Tony Gwilliam, architect and President of Tensegrity International in Ojai, California, worked with Buckminster Fuller in 1970's with housing design and in the 1960s with John McHale and RBF for the World Resources Inventory at SIU.
  • Donald G. Moore, friend and colleague of Buckminster Fuller for more than 30 years, now teaches Dymaxion Laboratory courses for Pacific Bell with Jaime Snyder. These courses center around RBF's problem-solving strategies.
  • William Reber, Senior staff engineer at TRW, has had a gentle fascination for synergetics and the works of Buckminster Fuller.for many years.
  • Vyom & Lorna Sadler Akhil are longtime associates of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. Lorna has contributed articles on shelter in previous issues of Trimtaband Vyom has taught workshops in synergetics to very young children.
  • Kirby Urner, a mathematician in Oregon, has taught synergetics to adults and presented "buckyball" workshops to high school students.
  • Vedder Wright who studied with Arthur Loeb at Harvard and Professor Janos Baracs in Montreal, teaches courses in spatial design geometry.
  • Thomas Zung, former friend and architectural partner of Buckminster Fuller is currently president of the architectural firm, Buckminster Fuller, Sadao and Zung in Cleveland. He collaborated in the design of many large scale geodesic structures in the 1970s.

"Synergetics is a moral and dogmatic (i.e. a doctrine laid down with authority) as well as a strictly empirical work. It attributes the existence of scientific laws to creation by a Deity. The triangle, being the first structural form, represents the first cause -- God or Cosmic Integrity," wrote Ted Campbell.

"Synergetics is to me like a Zen Koan," wrote Robert Gray. "If you are open to its teachings, if you are willing to put the effort into trying to understand its contents and relate it to your own experiences then you will find it full of meaning, insight and inspiration."

In a very un-Zen response, Ed Applewhite called synergetics "culture-neutral. . . Imagine a universal system of analysis for all patterns of energy observed in nature. Imagine that starting from pure experience -- starting form wholes -- you can reach a geometry devoid of cultural implications, a geometry with an intimate accessibility to physical reality unavailable through the irrational textbook abstractions of algebra or calculus." This comprises "the genius of synergetics," for him -- in "its starting point" as a universal "culture-neutral" system.

In a similar vein, Kiyoshi Kuromiya said, "Synergetics comprise nature's own ground-rules used in designing the Universe." Tony Gwilliam wrote, "Geodesics is the mapping of our planet. Synergetics is the mapping of pulsing energy dynamics that we call life. Synergetic geometry. . . provides me with a scaffolding into which I build my conceptual universe."

Don Moore called synergetics "a process" -- "the broad process of dealing with whole systems. . . with components, yes, but most important, with the interconnections (or Everything is connected to everything, and so what)."

William Reber agreed, calling it an "evolving experiential process. Vigorous thought renders visible patterns of events" which can be assimilated and later used.

Moore stayed with the idea of interconnections when he pointed out the relevance of synergetics in today's world: "Fragmentation. . . component thinking and acting. . . is not only blocking the potential success for 100% of humanity, but also threatening the entire planet." And this theme doesn't change when he describes the relevance of synergetics for the "average person": "We all, at some level, have a desire to connect things, to see how the parts fit together. If we don't start putting it all together soon it may be over for all of us . . . scientist, non-scientist, the average person, non-average person."

Thomas Zung reminds us that "The majority of the world still accepts the Malthusian theory (especially the money accountants) that humanity multiplies geometrically and life support increases only arithmetically, so there isn't enough to satisfy the earth's finite system. This greed and misinformation has and did lead to our recent Middle East oil war. Synergetics, through technology, makes today's world work."

Kirby Urner called synergetics a "counter-culture mathematics," which "gives people interested in challenging the status quo some tools for 'attacking' where 'the establishment' is least defended."

Ted Campbell wrote that "the lay person can, by understanding synergetics, prove that the Universe is not an aggregate of random events. It is designed." William Reber believes that synergetics consciously alters the average person, providing a greater sense of community and common purpose.

On the other hand, Robert Gray objected to the words "average person," (in spite of the fact that this is what Bucky Fuller called himself). He believes the phrase "carries negative connotations and sets up a labeling of people which I find offensive." To describe the relevance of synergetics for anyone, he wrote; "I know of no other book that provides such a complete description, at a conceptual level, of the underlying principles operative in the Universe. Knowing these principles we can more easily understand and identify with the dynamic beauty which unfolds before us and in which we are inherently subjected to every day. Using these principles, we can realize how to do 'more with less' in a sustainable way to provide everyone with their basic human needs and beyond. I can think of nothing more relevant for today's world."

Kiyoshi Kuromiya wrote: "Unless we take a role in designing our own environment and understanding how nature works, we are caught up in dealing only with our own survival and our own self-interest. We must have an understanding of our role as individuals vis-a-vis the seemingly overwhelming scope of the Universe at large. Information gathering and problem solving are not so out-of-scale in terms of our lives as individual humans that we cannot fulfill this local role in Universe, functioning in a way that is both personally satisfying and meaningful.

"Without the public taking an active role in demanding that the world we raise our children in is a world of less misinformation and more good information, we will be destined to live out our days in the Dark ages, living in a Universe that we perceive has no relevance to our everyday lives."

"Sooner or later," wrote Vedder Wright, "an increased spatial literacy in the general population would result in significant discoveries in science, design, architecture, mathematics, and a host of other fields. It is impossible to predict the total impact. Suffice it to say that many fields use spatial and morphological concepts, yet no systematic cross-disciplinary studies are offered (i.e. a common understanding, commonly taught). Such courses would significantly break down the isolation between disciplines." Jay Baldwin said wider understanding of synergetics would mean "intensity and accuracy of learning would increase with beneficial consequences." William Reber believes "the impact would be significantly greater cooperation and pursuit of a higher quality of life for all people."

Ed Applewhite said that a wider public understanding of synergetics would shake the underpinnings of our intellectual traditions: "Synergetics is a new paradigm with the potential for enriching the context of every established discipline -- and creating a few new ones: like design science." He added an intriguing point: "If RBF is right, then everyone else must be at least partly wrong."

[We were especially interested in what our questionnaires said are the "highest priorities for increasing the public's general awareness of synergetics."]

Thomas Zung summed up all the answers with one word: "Education." The others were much more specific about the form that education could, should or would take.

Ed Applewhite and Medard Gabel got right down to business with their answers: Applewhite wrote: "We need a central clearing-house on collateral scientific developments relevant to synergetics -- including files, bibliographies and exchange of correspondence. First priority should be given to developments in design science, cartography (the Fuller Map Projection); five-fold symmetry and quasicrystals; closest packing and tiling; and the carbon cluster molecules now know generically as fullerenes. We also need an innovative program of substantial prizes for best student papers on application of synergetic geometry to their field of study."

Gabel's answer is only a bit less ambitious:

"a. A translation of it into something useful to the present day scientist studying C60 -- that is a book or long article that explored its relevance to explaining and predicting the properties of C60 and any other derivatives.
b. An article or book on its relevance, use to present day problems in physics, cosmology biology, etc.
c. An interactive computer program that allows user to model different systems -- along with the connections between the esoteric geometry and real world problems. Something that allows the user to connect the geometry to real world phenomena in physics chemistry and biology.
d. An article/book that deals with the philosophy of synergetics and its place in the history of philosophy
e. An article/book on the geometry of synergetics and its place in the history of geometry, in other words, a context for Buckminster Fuller's work -- that shows how it is similar, how it is different, etc. to other effort; that shows its connections the other work."

Don Moore wrote: "Popularize and advance successful examples and applications [of synergetics]; Expose 'non-system' examples and their consequences." Lorna Sadler Akhil added flesh to Moore's answer: "Introduce hands-on work with models, etc. in elementary school, then follow this through in high school and college curricula. Science programs on television could address the subject, and entertaining books would be an idea for adults. Art work could also illustrate the principles -- without necessarily stating that to the viewer. In architecture, things like octet trusses should be used as structural components, not just decoration. Toys like the jitterbug, etc. help." Jay Baldwin wants to see "Interactive video or laser discs elucidating principles of synergetics (going much further than Amy, particularly visually)." Kirby Urner suggested "Make 'Synergetics cartoons' for television -- even if just short segments as part of commercial advertising (new 'high tech' look, post -XYZ."

Robert Gray wrote: "If it is public awareness of synergetics that is sought, then advertise. Awareness of the Synergetics books, however, is not as important as the dissemination and absorption of the knowledge and wisdom to be found in these books. I therefore consider it to be my highest priority to learn the material to the best of my ability and to pass on what I learn to other people through conversation and writing. For the public at large, I think the education of our teachers is of the highest priority. We must stop teaching our children the same fallacious information that we have been taught. The development of an educational program for grades K through 12 based on the viewpoint and information which Fuller provides in the Synergetics books would be an excellent start."

Vedder Wright had three different answers:

"1. Hold conferences to exchange ideas about synergetics. The Shaping Space Conference at Smith College in 1984 is a good example. That conference stimulated many researchers to write books and publish articles. Much more has been published since that conference. There is too much isolation in this field.
2. Set up a really significant journal, periodical or magazine promoting these ideas, not too abstract and not too superficial.
3. Train teachers and establish outlets to teach."

Kiyoshi Kuromiya answered the question taking the widest possible view: "The public must be made aware that from the unfettered mind of a single individual came the means to advance humans from this time forward for all future history with the Geodesic Dome (the first entirely new structural system of the past 2,000 years) and buckminsterfullerene (a whole new branch of chemistry that promises unimagined world-transforming applications). Laying dormant and still undiscovered are incredible numbers of future applications of synergetics to the person with individual initiative to find them in the two volumes of Synergetics, Cosmography, the Synergetics Dictionary, and the patent applications of Buckminster Fuller."

Bill Becker's response was even a bit more global: "If the public could be brought into a greater awareness of how truly 'wealthy' the world really is -- this whole decade of apocalyptic fundamentalism might be calmed down to the point where fewer national tragedies will occur than are now pending. The era of physics and the machines of death are passing -- but we must be cautious as we bring in the era of biology and the systems of life! Goals must be developed within the framework of LIFE, and not within the context of weaponry and intercultural violence. We need effective symbols which will utilize the reemergence of synergetics -- but within a new context of life-affirming tools, bio-diversity, and independence/interdependence, all operating within an aura of cooperation and partnership.

"The first step toward educating the public would be to establish a Buckminster Fuller Global University dedicated to permanent world peace through the creation of sustainable development projects and programs. Students at BFGU would spend each Junior Year as members of the Sustained Development Extension Service, which would eventually transcend the Peace Corp in bringing long-term development based on appropriate technology and renewable energy to the nations of the world -- including the over-polluted over-developed nations in the oil-addicted regions of North America and Northern Europe. BFGU would not only be a school 'without walls' but would primarily promote and run a worldwide 'without walls' curriculum of 'tele-educators' and 'tele-learners,' all operating on a variety of projects with 'measurable positive impacts' on the communities in partnership with BFGU. Another significant mission for BFGU would be the creation of the research base necessary to build human habitats in space, on the Moon, and on Mars -- given that the long-term goals for these habitats would be the same as for those on Earth -- sustainable settlements based upon non-polluting renewable energy systems."

On a number of occasions in the past, we have introduced Trimtab readers to Yasushi Kajikawa, founder of the Synergetics Institute, Hiroshima, Japan. On his own, he has done remarkable work; but not until we saw the following answers to our questionnaire did we fully understand just how remarkable he is.

Synergetics is one of the most spontaneous ways of thinking, feeling, visualizing, speaking and writing. My individual activities began after reading Synergetics Vol. 1 in 1976. I was 26 years old. At that time no scholars in Japan taught or could even suggest relevant information on synergetics. Before meeting Bucky in 1981, I spent six years thinking about synergetics. This means that I was completely isolated from others. My later contacts with Bucky provided me with the opportunity to reconstruct my thinking in order to properly follow the scientific method. I published two different papers in the synergetics field in the Japanese edition of the Scientific American, the first one, "Folding Polyhedra" in 1984 and the second, "Growing Icosahedra," in 1990. Those were significant reports in that I accomplished them without a university degree.

When I first sought to publish something of my own thinking in the scientific field, Japanese referees could not make a decision on publishing because they didn't have any information or understanding about synergetics. However, this impossibility to make a decision is always related with new ideas, and this was the strongest reason for the publisher's decision to print. To me, however, synergetics means not proving something new mathematically but just demonstrating existing dynamic structures, which I can do visually. The trend in 20th century mathematics is towards the abstract which cannot be visualized. Synergetics, on the contrary, produces visual models.

Even though I'm not a scholar, I was the first man to develop new synergetic concepts in Japan. I've never met any other person in Japan who is doing something in this field. This is the reason I established the Synergetics Institute in Hiroshima in 1988. This Institute has a function to teach synergetics to others, including children. synergetics is the simplest language consisting of edge, face, line, and time. This language can be visualized strongly by everyone, including children. New expressions and ideas can be converted into this language, and in this way we do not have to depend on social acknowledgement and complex scientific information; everyone can participate intuitively. In our 20th century, I believe, synergetics is the major method for comprehensive scientific discovery in order to "do more with less."

Japanese industry has been successful in applying the principle of doing more with less. Japan has to import 99% of its raw materials from other countries, and our 20th century economic success is due to our use of the above principle. Doing more with less is a way of life in Japan; we have, therefore, a generalized background for the development of synergetics. We Japanese, however, do not notice our use of synergetics. Right now, in fact, the Japanese education system promotes specialization, whereas if students were to study synergetics, there would be a more integrated approach to problems. this conscious awareness of synergetics would increase efficiency, allowing us to do even more with less and less.

We should establish a synergetics host computer capable of supplying color 3-D graphics in any of several languages to the general population. Once started, computer networking will grow up automatically in the user's interest. We can successfully connect the whole Earth with a network structure resembling a tensegrity sphere. This "tensegrity sphere" will make an impact with the public since probably within the next five years everyone will have access to a small computer, which in turn, will enable access only to the understanding of synergetics, which will be just one part of the network. At the present time, I notice that hands-on experiences are most important to the understanding of synergetics; therefore, anyone who can understand synergetic concepts should set up workshops for interested parties. Computer networking will make it increasingly efficient to do this on a global scale.

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