Systems Thinking 2 – Day 2 – Values missing…

7 Feb , 2016 Aalto University,Course Diary,Studies,Systems Thinking 2

In the second session of the Systems Thinking 2 course at Aalto University we dealt with the topics “Boundary, Inquiry, Perspectives”; in the morning and “Learning categories, Postnormal Science, Ignorance” in the afternoon.
Even after almost two days of trying to process all of it, I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. As my group was also responsible on challenging the second group, I will focus on a couple of thoughts I had around each of the three subtopics.

Learning Categories

In class I mentioned a talk I attended at re:publica 2013: Neil Harbisson, Moon Ribas: Life with extra Senses – How to become a Cyborg.. (A shorter version is available as a TED talk: Neil Harbisson: I listen to color)
The reason this relates to the learning categories for me is the question of what passes as Learning IV. In class we discussed it mainly as genetic change in the system, learning across generations. I am wondering, whether we have come to a point where by extending our body by technological means we could transcend ourselves to something envisioned as Learning IV, even though it might not actually be genetical learning. How do nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and e.g. exoskeletons connect to this topic? Ideas that are e.g. explored by Ray Kurzweil, who predicts humans to build new bodies for themselves by extending it with technology, eventually leaving fewer and fewer options to not follow this path as the advances of using those alterations become to high in comparison to resisting those alterations (Kurzweil 1999).
To me that also brings up the question of choice: genetic learning over generations isn’t anything I could choose to do or not do. The technical alterations and extensions seem like a choice at first, but might eventually be necessary if the environment is altered in a way that it becomes impossible to interact with it without such extensions or modifications which would lead me to connect it with socio-ecological coevolution as “cases where evolution in the social system affects the bio-physical environment, which in turn affects evolution in the social system (Norgaard, 1994)” (Kallis and Norgaard 2010:692).
So even though this wouldn’t classify as genetic change it still requires the system/organism to change and adapt in ways that require a significant change to itself, which is why I wouldn’t necessarily see it as one of the other Learning types, as suggested by a course mate who argued it would merely be Learning I. In the case of Neil Harbisson I would say it was Learning IV, the alteration to his body itself, that subsequently enabled many new process of Learning I that would otherwise not have been possible.
I’m not sure I am missing something major here, though.

Postnormal Science

When we were discussing Postnormal Science the thing that struck me the most was the question of values. To me it remained unclear how the values that seem to be necessary to govern science are determined.
This is also a question in our group’s topic, where we are dealing with turbulence, as Emery and Trist suggest that in order to cope in what they call “turbulent fields” “values that have overriding significance for all members of the field” need to emerge. (Emery and Trist 1965:28) The question that remains for me is how we, as a society, create these values and how to determine which values are “better” or “worse” than others. The linking of science with policy making that seemed to be connected to Postnormal Science reminded me of Ulrich Beck’s text “The Politics of Risk Society” (1998) in which he argued that in order not to become trapped in “uncertainties of scientific knowledge” politics and morality need to gain priority over scientific reasoning (Beck 1998:14).
From the presentation in class I understood it so that “Normal Science” is always based on underlying values without making it transparent, while “Postnormal Science” argues, that we need those values and they are necessary in order to determine which science to pursue and which not. In that regard I have to think of a drama by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The Physicists (in German: Die Physiker), which questions the ethics of Sciences and whether something that has been though once can be taken back or whether anything that can be thought will eventually be though, no matter which values are governing the sciences.
It seems to me like a bit of a trap to call for values or morale to predetermine which science can be done and which shouldn’t as I think the results are what need to be discussed and evaluated based on current values. Science’s outcomes are also a way of shaping values to me and important in asking necessary societal questions. Again, maybe I misunderstood something completely, but the definition of the necessary still seems unclear to me.


  1. Beck, Ulrich. Politics of risk society. in: Franklin, Jane (editor). The politics of risk society. Institute for Public Policy Research, 1998. pp. 9–22.
  2. Emery, Fred E., and Eric L. Trist. The causal texture of organizational environments. Human relations 18.1 (1965): 21–32. doi:10.1177/001872676501800103
  3. Harrison, Neil. I listen to color. TEDGlobal 2012, June 2012. available online at–556787 [retrieved 07.02.2016]
  4. Harrison, Neil and Moon Ribas. Life with extra Senses – How to become a Cyborg. re:publica 2013, 07.05.2013. available online at [retrieved 07.02.2016]
  5. Kallis G, Norgaard RB. Coevolutionary ecological economics. Ecological Economics. 2010 Feb 15;69(4):690–9. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2009.09.017
  6. Kurzweil, Ray. The age of spiritual machines: When computers exceed human intelligence. Penguin, 1999.

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