Qualitative Systems Thinking

Last run on 6th May 2021

 

An introductory course to the new discipline of qualsystems

By Dr Anthony Hodgson

We are living through an explosion of knowledge. Knowledge used to be concentrated in libraries supported by the technology of printing but now that knowledge is largely contained in digital form in massive capacity servers (computers) all linked together via the internet. Search engines of great sophistication enable ranges of rapid access to stored knowledge but also enabling self-publication such that that millions of sources of knowledge are feeding this behemoth.

However, does all this improve our understanding? Or more cogently, is the development of understanding keeping up with the knowledge explosion? Do we know better how to make sense of it, especially in terms of relevance to our existential concerns in a troubled society on a troubled planet?

This new course is built on the proposition that learning understanding requires a different learning process from knowledge. It requires a different theory and a different practice based on perception of qualities rather than the measurement of quantities, the recognition of universal patterns and the development of a self-reflective consciousness.

Course Structure:

The course is structured around three lines of work.

  • Firstly there is the basic idea of qualitative systems based on the sequence of integers and their perceptual meaning.
  • Secondly, there is the practice of engaging with qualsystems as a method of increasing intuitive intelligence.
  • Thirdly, there is the application of qualsystems to real world problems of understanding and action. The three lines will be woven together over a series of seven two hour online seminars.

The course sessions are each made up from the following components:

  • A live participative session by Dr. Anthony Hodgson via Zoom
  • Learning materials between sessions
  • An asynchronous chat forum (hosted on Slack) for course members to share and discuss

Who is this course for?

This course will be helpful if you:

  • Wish to learn a better way of making sense of a confused and turbulent world
  • Need to make decisions or policies that need synthesis across a complex of information and issues
  • Are engaged in transdisciplinary research but can find no coherent method for inter disciplinary understanding
  • Are engaged in design work for complex situations, especially of transformation or regeneration
Module 1 – Numbers, Qualities and Perception (Thur 6 May)
  • How understanding differs from knowledge
  • Appreciative systems are different
  • The importance of perception and interpretation
  • The limitations of reductionism
  • First order and second order systems – enter consciousness
  • The definition of qualsystems as discrete qualities of mutual relevance between self and universe
  • Qualsystems as a second-order discipline
  • The hypothesis of the qualitative significance of number
  • The further definition of qualsystems as implicate number
  • Qualsystems as a language of understanding
  • Its use as a method of exploration, insight and creativity
Module 2 - The Basic Qualsystems (Thur 13 May)
  • Basic symbols and conventions
  • The series of n-term systems
  • Attributes, term characters, connectivities
  • ZERO – undivided totality
  • MONAD – universe of discourse
  • DYAD – inherent polarity
  • TRIAD – relational dynamics
  • TETRAD – field of action
Module 3 – The Intermediate Qualsystems (Thur 20 May)
  • PENTAD – potential significance
  • HEXAD – coalescence of events
  • HEPTAD – structure and flow
  • OCTAD – completedness and balance
Module 4 – The Complex Qualsystems (Thur 27 May)
  • ENNEAD – transformative dynamics
  • DECAD – integrative complementarity
  • UNDECAD – the dimensional bridge
  • DUODECAD – the cosmic ladder of being
Module 5 – The Cosmic Laws of Unfolding (Thur 3 June)
  • Implicate and explicate order
  • Qualtum potential and realization
  • The unfolding of complexity and connectedness
  • Attributes in a natural sequence
  • Strong and weak coherence
  • Examples from nature
  • Examples from creative processes
  • Examples from everyday life
Module 6 – Unpacking complex systems (Thur 10 June)
  • The Octad – the essence of holism
    • Example: Regenerative society
  • The Enneagram – overcoming hazard
    • The three octaves of transformation
    • Example – works of art
  • The Duodecad – the essential integrality
    • The triad of tetrads
    • The Dramatic Universe
Module 7 – Practice: Tuning in to Qualsystems (Thur 17 June)
  • Qualsystems practice increases our understanding
  • Different modes of application
    • Increasing appreciation of a field
    • As an aid to the design process
    • Cross-functional understanding in a team
    • Fearlessly tackling complexity and uncertainty
  • Practicing a qualsystems exploration together
    • Basic presence
    • Tuning into the Monad
    • Working up the qualsystems
    • Seeing if we can get through the first six to the hexad
  • Clarifying some techniques
    • Mental images and visualisation
    • Open questioning
    • Disentangling confusion
    • Knowing where you are in the sequence
  • How to take your leaning further as part of your life skills

Learn more

In the 50s and 60s J.G.Bennett was working on the unity of the sciences and the integration of knowledge. As part of his thinking he picked up on the emergence of general systems theory as parallel attempt to create a trans-discipline that would support synthesis and comparative understanding between fields of knowledge. He was also well aware of the historical traditions in Western and Eastern cultures and traditions of the role of number in belief systems and seeking to understand the patterns of nature and the human experience. This led to the creation of what he called General Systematics based on the qualitative significance of number.

This course is based on a theory and practice of seeing systems as patterns of qualities that are reflected between our minds and the universe as we experience it. Qualsystems is founded on the method known as General Systematics developed by J.G. Bennett from his extensive explorations of synergy and integrative thinking. Anthony Hodgson spent almost a decade working as a research fellow with Bennett in the 60s during the early evolution of the approach. He has spent several subsequent decades using qualsystems in his own consulting, research and education work whilst mastering a range of conventional systems thinking tools. Recently he completed a doctorate in systems science in which he was able to integrate systematics with second-order cybernetics and forms of mindfulness and visualisation, taking advantage of a further 50 years of development in the field.

In the 50s and 60s J.G.Bennett was working on the unity of the sciences and the integration of knowledge. As part of his thinking he picked up on the emergence of general systems theory as parallel attempt to create a trans-discipline that would support synthesis and comparative understanding between fields of knowledge. He was also well aware of the historical traditions in Western and Eastern cultures and traditions of the role of number in belief systems and seeking to understand the patterns of nature and the human experience. This led to the creation of what he called General Systematics based on the qualitative significance of number.

In the background of the work at this time in the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences were

  1. cybernetics was just being created as it were (the idea of second order cybernetics are was not yet in the frame)
  2. conversations were being held with David Bohm on the notions of qualitative infinity, the implicate order and the holomovement
  3. conversations were also occurring with Spencer Brown and Stafford Beer

However, the next fifty plus years of development in the systems fields largely concentrated on the quantitative rather than qualitative aspects of systems thinking. Fields such as system dynamics, soft systems and cybernetics were essentially about the linking of measurable variables, feedback and regulatory systems. Bennett’s quest was for a different version of systems which focused on understanding rather than knowing, synthesis rather than analysis and deep appreciation rather than simulation. The result is that systematics never even made it to the margins, let alone the mainstream of systems thinking.

However, various fringe applications and developments continued by a small dispersed number of researchers who recognised the need for rebalancing a world dominated by deterministic science and economics based on empirical measurement with greater emphasis on patterns of meaning and the inseparable role of the observer in understanding. Experiments were made in education, management and transdisciplinary studies. But the foundations for such a discipline to have a meaning and role in contemporary society were lacking. This situation is rapidly changing in the face of the challenges of the Anthropocene.

There is increasing recognition of the need for a science of qualities which can elicit authentic understanding not accessible by reductionist measurement. Cybernetics itself has given rise to second-order cybernetics in which, contrary to deterministic systems thinking, the presence and role of the observer is acknowledged. This in turn is stimulating explorations of a second-order science. The existential predicament of humanity, characterised increasingly as the Anthropocene, and its accompanying impacts of climate change, pandemics and global political unrest and inequity seem to be the product of mainstream thought and therefor its continuing application seems inherently ineffective in providing solutions. New initiatives for unknown territory need new thinking.

This course is an offering of a fresh way of thinking and hence acting to the contemporary challenges we face. It has grown out of the continuing development of general systematics but in a context of the emerging qualitative paradigm. To avoid confusion with biological systematics and to immediately highlight its different from mechanistic systems thinking it is renamed qualtumsystems as a specific form of thinking about systems in qualitative terms.

Schedule

The sessions run Thursdays 19:00 – 21:00 (BST) every week over a period of six weeks:

6 May – Module 1: Numbers, Qualities and Perception

13 May – Module 2: The Basic Qualsystems

20 May – Module 3: The Intermediate Qualsystems

27 May – Module 4: The Complex Qualsystems

3 June – Module 5: The Cosmic Laws of Unfolding

10 June – Module 6: Unpacking complex systems

17 June – Module 7: Practice: Tuning in to Qualsystems