Nature matters: Systems thinking and experts
Nature matters: Systems thinking and experts

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Nature matters: Systems thinking and experts

1.4.1 Dealing meaningfully with holism

Ulrich's primary observation is quite straightforward. Any system as a human construct is unable to capture the total complexity of interrelationships and interdependencies that make up the real world. This idea resonates with the paradox of framing referred to by Moore. It also resonates with Ilan Kapoor's reference to the work of Slavoj Žižek, quoted earlier: ‘Reality is what we (mistakenly) take to be wholeness or harmony, while the Real denotes the impossibility of wholeness’ (Kapoor, 2005, p. 1205). There are limitations on what we can frame – no framework can ever incorporate all interrelationships and interdependencies (Figure 3). For this reason, although systems thinking and ecological thinking are culturally important framing activities for alerting us to interrelationships and interdependencies, claims towards holism or being holistic can only be relative. Thus Capra's ecological thinking, for example, is more holistic than conventional scientific reductionist thinking.

Figure 3
Figure 3 Understanding the complexity of climate change

Complexity scientists and chaos theorists provide an invaluable understanding of reality and living systems as interconnected wholes. Yet ultimately these are codified understandings of what ‘is’ ; they can never be absolute, true representations. Moreover, there is a further problem. Moving from a powerful descriptive understanding of reality towards appropriate practice in that world requires shifting our framing device from an ‘is’ mode to an ‘ought’ mode. This is an ethical jump, requiring value judgements as much as judgements of ‘fact’. Confusing the two leads to what philosophers have long referred to as the ‘naturalistic fallacy’. Put simply, this means assuming that what is natural in the descriptive world is necessarily what is equivalent to what is good – a judgement in the normative world rather than the descriptive world. Martell makes reference to this in terms of ‘fetishising the natural’. Judgements of fact (descriptions) are different from, though very much related to, value judgements (norms) – the latter being more associated with the realm of multiple perspectives.

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