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Thinking In Systems: A Primer (2008)

by Donella H. Meadows(Favorite Author)
4.2 of 5 Votes: 3
1603580557 (ISBN13: 9781603580557)
Chelsea Green Publishing
review 1: This book has an ambitious goal. It attempts to fundamentally influence the way you look at everything. It coerces you to take your eyes of the little things, zoom out a bit, and focus on the bigger picture. And when you do that, you see the beauty in complexity. You see that the whole is greater than the sum of parts. You see how futile it is to make sense of this complex world by only looking at the surface.Thinking in terms of systems is an important perspective to have, in a world that is obsessed with mere numbers and individual events. It is liberating, enlightening and also humbling, to try to understand the behavior of systems that surround us. I've had enough epiphanies reading this book, that I'd recommend it to anyone who's trying to make sense of this crazy, cr... moreazy world.
review 2: One of the most fundamental ideas we have about the world is the role of causality. In the most basic sense, this takes the form of IF...THEN. Although there are variations of that, in philosophy this is called the Principle of Sufficient Reason, only takes the crudest linear binary approach of yes and no. Given the fuzziness of real life, we can start to understand the world as a series of feedback loops. The way something changes changes not just what it is, but ultimately changes itself in ways that are not always linear.This small book approaches re-thinking these kinds of relationships. Although Meadow speaks often of simple models to illustrate the principles of a systems approach, Meadow is quick to emphasize how a systems approach necessarily destroys traditional limits of what we conceive of as being the rational boundaries of a given set of relationships. That is to say, to understand one area of life, we can't stick to academic boundaries, defined around a set of parameters. Real life doesn't operate through a series of vacuums. Our understandings are often presented to us, taught to us with built in limitations, so that we can grasp principle relationships in isolation... but a deeper understand always necessitates retooling where our understanding stops, how far we are willing to trace our assumptions.A huge takeaway from this book is that how we conceive of something, what we think our goals are, necessarily limits and changes how we are able to interact in the world. For instance, if we find ourselves following rules in letter, not in spirit, then our assumed goals (meant to be streamlined by rules) aren't really our goals. In the same vein, considering how we model reality influences how we make decisions, our attempts to reduce reality into a set of knowable standards often leads us to only think in terms of what we can talk about, instead of being open to redefining what we can talk about in order to make our models reflect how the world really operates. As already mentioned, often the world works in feedback loops, not in terms of strict causation... after all, what happens to the consequent (the THEN part) after the antecedent (the IF part)? Things have changed imperceptibly... the THEN part doesn't really just disappear or fall off the edge of reality... and our models need to account for it. Likewise, classical economics tends to think only in terms of objective (read quantifiable) utility... ignoring real values like happiness and trust. Meadows shows us again and again, that many of the big world problems stem from our inability to really consider what our goals should be, our unwillingness to be open to complexity we are uncomfortable with (such as intangibles like trust, even though since intangibles do influence how people behave) and how we think the world really works...One of the great pleasures of reading this book is seeing the far range of application a systems approach can take us. As a note, Joseph Stiglitz's recent economic proposal takes a systems approach to re-thinking how we measure GDP and assess our economic and lifeworld goals, which is a start, even though in some sense, we don't yet have the means to assess what we find to be primary goals, for example, how can we assess happiness?I will definitely read more books about systems and system approaches. less
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Totally recommend this to anyone interested in organizing or understanding more of their lives.
Probably conceptually necessary, but could have been shorter, too.
Very interesting topic, but a bit too long for it's content.
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