Symmathesy and Systems Thinking in Identity

Nora Bateson
18 April 2016

I would like to propose a new word for 'System' that refers specifically to living systems – that is, to systems composed of living vitae, which emerge from their communications and interactions. The expression and communication of interdependency and, particularly, mutual learning should be implicit in the term.

The existing word, 'system', while useful for discussion of many kinds of systems, does not communicate contextual fields of simultaneous learning as is necessary for life. Due to the missed characteristic of learning within the term 'System', this important aspect is often lost in 'systemic' studies. The inclusion of mutual learning in the terminology precludes the models of engineering and mechanism, as the many variables of developing interaction become untenable to consider in those parameters.

This difference is a significant shift in our work in the sciences, communication, and arts that address our understanding of life, and evolution. The discourse with which we discuss and study the living world should be representative of the living world, and cautiously avoid connotations that imply or are derived from engineering.

Biology, culture, and society are dependent at all levels upon the vitality of interaction they produce both internally and externally. A body, a family, a forest or a city can each be described as a buzzing hive of communication between and within its vitae.

Together the organs of your body allow you to make sense of the world around you. A jungle can be understood best as a conversation between the flora, the fauna, the insects and the contact with humanity. The interaction is what creates and vitalizes the integrity of the living world. Over time the ongoing survival of the organisms in their environments requires that there be learning, and learning to learn, together. Gregory Bateson said, “The evolution is in the context.”

Our conceptual understanding of the living world can be elevated with a new terminology that better describes the processes we are referring to within it. The viability of this new term is a step toward a clearer understanding of the way we describe the difference between what we can “control”, i.e. in material terms, and that which requires another approach, i.e. interacting with the complexity of evolving living systems.