Circularity and Systems
Systems Theory: An Introduction
It is often said that transitioning to a circular built environment requires a massive systemic change. Understanding systems and how they work is key to supporting circular principles. The following sections focus on making this notion explicit. In this video, Olga discusses how scientific reasoning has affected the way we perceive and make sense of the world. She illustrates how the limitations of the scientific method gradually led to the formulation of systems theory in an attempt to consider complex phenomena in an integral way.
- In the paradigm of scientific reductionism every problem can be broken down to parts: understanding the problem comes from summing the understanding of its parts. It is an analytical (reductive) way of thinking.
- Scientific reductionism is founded on the principles of repetition and predictability.
- General Systems Theory (GST) proposed that complex phenomena can be seen as webs of relationships between elements. In this paradigm elements are still important, but not as important as their interconnections and their purpose.
- Systems construct themselves and have an identity by which they are recognized. The world was seen as an autopoietic system in the 1972 the ‘Limits to Growth’ report by the Club of Rome. World economy was linked for the first time with the environment showing that continuous growth pushes planetary limits to the verge of collapse.
Do you want to know more about the ‘Limits to Growth’ report? Check Carola’s ‘Green by Desire’ video here.
- Documentary | In his 3-episode documentary, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis discusses how computers helped create a mechanistic idea of the natural world and how that plan backfired. Episode 2 also discusses Jay Forrester’s systems theory approach as discussed in the previous video.
- Stanford University Lecture | In his May 2010 lecture Chaos and Reductionism Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University explains how reductionism came into being and it has been contradicted by later theories such as the Chaos theory.
- Berlage Keynote Series lecture | In this video from the Berlage keynotes series, entitled ’Filthy Logics’: The Architecture of Mediocrity, Francesca Hughes, exposes the 19th century invention of Social Calculus (Statistics) as a means of controlling the narrative. Imbued by digital solutionism, the calculating machines invented at the time where actually used to calculate truths, ultimately giving way to an architecture of mediocrity. This keynote speech was recorded on May 12, 2022.
- Meadows, D.H., Meadows D.L., Randers, J. & Behrens W.W. III (1972). The Limits to growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books.
- Maturana, H.R. & Varela, F.J. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition: The Realization of the Living. Dordrecht, NL; Boston, USA, London, UK: D. Reidel Publishing Company.
- Meadows, D. (2009). Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Vermont: Chelsey Green Publishing.
- Mitchell, M. (2009). Complexity: A Guided Tour. New York: Oxford University Press
- Skyttner, L. (2001). General Systems Theory: Ideas and Applications. Singapore; New Jersey; London; Hong Kong: Worlds Scientific.