[permaculture] systems thinking & cybernetics

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Tue Aug 28 16:36:12 EDT 2012

Q: "best short/intro book in terms of presenting, explaining,
clarifying systems thinking and cybernetics as foundations of design"


which uses a lot of work by Jay Forrester, who was Donella Meadows'
mentor, on teaching systems in K-12 schools and other educational
Well worth checking out by anyone teaching. I love the bit on the
class that built a model to demonstrate the plot of "Lord of the
Flies" where the strength of the boys' fear of the beast rose as faith
in rescue declined. That's on p14 of


http://www.systemswiki.org/ is an invaluable resource for anyone interested
in the application of systems thinking, and a good portal for connecting
with the thousands of people around the world who have the same interest.
Hugh Kelly

Hugh Kelly hkelly at permezone.com:
Here's the reading list so far from respondents on the Systems
Thinking World group on LinkedIn. The first two were specifically
highlighted for permaculturists, the last entry as a 'fun, light
read’. I've included people's comments below. I’ve added Peter
Checkland’s more recent book “Learning for Action” to the list as it
looks more like an introductory book than the SSM tome.

 Donella Meadows
Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Peter Checkland
Soft Systems Methodology in Action

Peter Checkland
Learning for Action

Patrick Hoverstadt
The Fractal Organization

Stafford Beer
The Brain of the Firm

Draper Kaufman
Systems One

Barry Richmond
An introduction to Systems Thinking with STELLA
 <http://www.bit.ly/92C3Wn> www.bit.ly/92C3Wn

Jon Walker
The Viable System Model

W. L. Livingston
Friends in High Places

Gerald M. Weinberg, Daniela Weinberg
General Principles of Systems Design

Gerald M Weinberg
An introduction to General Systems Thinking

Chris Alexander
Notes on the synthesis of form

Bela H.Banathy
Designing Social Systems in a Changing World (Contemporary Systems Thinking)

Douglas Hofstadter
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Robert Wootton B.A.Hons. • The Fractal Organization by Patrick
Hoverstadt you should find useful.
Also "The Brain of the Firm" by Stafford Beer in which the concept of
the viability of systems is developed should be on the Essential
Reading list for students.

Allen Woods • While I agree with the previous post. a penny dropping
book for me is: An introduction to General Systems Thinking By Gerald
M Weinberg, ISBN 0-932633-49-8 Published by: Dorest House Publishing
of New York.  Not a light read, but I came to systems thinking via
Deming et al, with hindsight not a particularly recommended route, had
I been fortunate enough to be lead by the nose, as opposed to the kind
of independent bimbling I did, I am sure that this book or something
like it would have been one of the first would have been in there
somewhere as directed reading.

Fabian Szulanski • Here go three nice options:
Systems One, by Draper Kaufman: amzn.to/P0rI8k

An introduction to Systems Thinking with STELLA: bit.ly/92C3Wn
Thinking in Systems: A Primer, by Donella Meadows amzn.to/Pfx02K

Roger Harnden • I still think that very little has bettered Peter
Checkland's Soft System Methodology. If your focus is the Permaculture
community and hands-on experience, then Jon Walker is your man.  [Of
course, one might think that 'whole systems governance' is a
contradiction in terms; and, that someone who is to teach a graduate
class needs more than a 'short/introductory' book ☺☺]

Jack Ring • If you don't understand William L. Livingston III's
Goal-seeking System model in Friends In High Places, FES Publishing,
then you aren't there yet. Two or more systems engaged in
co-evolutionary optimization.

Ilia Bider • I would suggest a companion to Gerry's book "An
introduction to General Systems Thinking" called "General Principles
of Systems Design" (by Gerald M. Weinberg, Daniela Weinberg) as better
suited for the goal.

Patrick Hoverstadt • Thanks for the plug Robert! Knowing a few
permaculturalists... I think something system dynamicsy should work
for them, so Donella Meadows "thinking in systems"
Chris Alexander also goes down well in those circles - "pattern
language" is a bit chunky, but there's his brilliant little book
"notes on the synthesis of form" which has "how to design a village"
as a case at the back.

Fabian Szulanski • Maybe Bela Banathy's work on social systems &
design can add some value as well:

lewis campbell • Thanks for the adding to my already long reading
list.... : 0 ) If you are looking for a fun, light read, that is
profound in relative systems....a satirical look some might call it..
Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid is a 1979 book by Douglas
Hofstadter, described by his publishing company as "a metaphorical
fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll".
Published: 1979  Author: Douglas Hofstadter  Original language:


One of the Odum ecology books would almost be as good.
Philosophically, Joanna Macy's Mutual Causality in Buddhism and
General Systems Theory is very elucidating.  The permaculture
community would really benefit from a more explicit and intelligent
use of systems thinking.
Rain Tenaqiya raincascadia at yahoo.com


I have introduced a session on Systems Thinking
based on Donella's book (exploring her 10 leverage points in Systems and
her 'Dancing With Systems' chapter) into the last few PDCs I have
co-led. To me this is far more fundamental to what permaculture is all
about than, for example, sheet mulching or fruit tree pruning, and these
are the really important concepts that we need to be getting across in
the limited time we have available in our course sylabuses!
Graham Burnett


This might be a little too much resource for the question you are asking,
but it's worth getting it out there into circulation.

School for Designing a Society, on their "Readings" page has links to
several awesome collections of readings on the social and theoretical sides
of cybernetics & systems thinking.
The link to the links is here: http://designingsociety.com/readings/

I would particularly recommend the stuff by Stafford Beer that you can find
at Arun Chandra's collection (for his classes at Evergreen) here:

Stafford Beer, if you aren't familiar with him, was the cyberneticist who
helped design the participatory socialist economy in Chile under Allende.
<...> his ongoing implementation of that design <...>.
rafter sass ferguson liberationecology at gmail.com


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