Michael Hohl’s Paper Proposal

Living in Cybernetics: Ecological literacy, design thinking and the pattern that connects

“What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?” Gregory Bateson

5. Education and conversation: Lewin, Martin, Pask, Scott
7. Art, design, music, literature; Brun, Clarke, Galuszka, Krippendorff, Pangaro, Parenti

In this paper I reflect on how systems thinking, from a perspective of ecological literacy, can inform design thinking and may lead to a practice of lived Cybernetics.
Ecological literacy, an educational perspective, incorporates ideas around sustainability, networks, nested systems, circularity and flows, among others. Cybernetics tries to understand complexity, and the relationship between systems and observers, with implications for the social sphere. Design thinking aims at understanding problems from a perspective of empathy, creativity, intuition and methodical analysis and reflection.
What is the pattern that connects these three practices?
All three might be seen as practices of acting and understanding, as well as theoretical perspectives.

(Additionally design can learn from principles that evolved in living systems over time, such as biomimetics or biomimicry.)

The knowledge of living systems, design inspired by nature and the transition to a sustainable society are shared goals.

In my view design thinking and cybernetic thinking may have a crucial role in contributing to a (design) education, such a ‘transition design’ (‘Transition towns’), which also strongly relates to Donald Schön’s ‘reflection in action’ and John Dewey’s experiential learning cycle.

Another important role in all three above mentioned practices, is played by ‘embodiment’, the idea that we think with our whole bodies as well as with our tools.
What may be gained through such a discussion?
Understanding how the three perspectives may mutually complement one another on multiple levels may lead to a more comprehensive and meaningful framework for education and also for lifelong learning.

David Orr
Linda Booth Sweeney
Fritjof Capra
Humberto Maturana
Donald Schon
Andy Clark
George Lakoff
Klaus Krippendorff, The semantic turn
John Dewey, How we think
Richard Sennett, Together
Neil Postman, Teaching as a subversive activity
Donald Schon, The reflective practitioner
Nigel Cross, Design Thinking
Weinberger, David, 2013, Knowledge in its natural state

Cybernetic traditions:

  • 5) Education and conversation
  • 7) Art; design; music; literature

4 thoughts on “Michael Hohl’s Paper Proposal

  1. Michael Hohl

    Perhaps the title needs to be amended. It is about: How can knowledge from other disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, genetics, nested systems and complexity, can inform a sustainable design education and design practice? What role can the human body play in making this knowledge ‘real’, in the sense of it becoming something concrete and not abstract? How can these shape a framework of designerly thinking? What role can 2nd order cybernetics play in this framework?

  2. Tom Scholte

    I have found it extremely useful to keep thinking of cybernetics, first and foremost, as a meta-discipline as articulated by Margaret Mead: –“a form of cross-disciplinary thought which made it possible for members of many disciplines to communicate with each other easily in a language which all could understand.” I’m beginning to wonder if it is a kind of fundamental “cybernetic literacy ” writ large that we should would be trying to spread and which could engender the multiple kinds of literacies that you mention in your proposed amendment.

  3. Ben Sweeting

    I wonder…. the analogies between ecology, design and cybernetics are so strong (especially in Glanville and Bateson) is it also interesting to look for differences between the three…?

  4. Michael Hohl

    Thank you both for your ideas. The idea of a meta-discipline is valuable (perhaps as design is a meta-discipline) and also the analogies between ecology, design and cybernetics. I like the idea of making clear distinctions between them, however first i would like to see how then can inform each other, creating a framework to inform lifelong learning as well as design education from a ‘transition design’ perspective.


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