The purpose of a system is what it does.
— Stafford Beer
The natural world we find ourselves in is of sufficient wonder, beauty, pain, and terror that many insist that some demiurge had to have made it, and fashioned us as well. For centuries before the dawn of science, the notion of the “Book of Nature” was an influential concept of how knowledge about the world was to be found and understood, borrowed from ideas on how to read and interpret religious writings: exegesis or hermeneutics. Nature was a text, writ by its creator.
Back in Medieval times, there were four ‘senses’ of reading and understanding scripture:
- Anagogia: the higher meaning (I.I.)
- Allegoria: the deeper meaning (I.V.)
- Historia: the literal meaning (V.V.)
- Tropologia: the moral meaning (V.I.)
Perhaps the meaning of these senses were more or less literal. Therefore on my diagram I have placed the higher above, the deeper below, the historical in the past, and the moral in the future. Morals inform us what we should do or what our purpose is. A heuretic of systems thinking coined by Stafford Beer is “the purpose of a system is what it does.” And remember the immortal words of Yoda: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
Fortunately or unfortunately, nature is nothing like a text. All texts are written by people, and are structured by human thought and language. Nature requires other methods for understanding its basis and processes. The so-called scientific method evolved by fits and starts to explore the workings of nature, its components, causes, structures and functions. And it continues to evolve because it is not in itself entirely mechanistic: no precise algorithm that we know of can be specified to turn the crank and do ‘science’. Does that mean it’s unscientific? Not at all.
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