01 March 2013

Loosely Related Thoughts on Systems, Being and Social Evolution

“Thus, at the quantum level of accuracy, an object does not have any intrinsic property (for instance wave or particle) belonging to itself alone. Instead, it shares all its properties mutually and indivisibly with the systems with which it interacts.”
David Bohm, Quantum Theory, 1958


Systems evoke properties and this is the story of the actualization of self. We abide in and interact with systems, with environments, and in those systems we become us. The more we know about the systems around us, the better we understand nature or markets or social trends or families or neighborhoods, the more options we have to respond.


Scientists like Stephen Jay Gould have argued that evolution has no purpose. Evolution just happens. I disagree. Systems are defined by relationships, by a set of mutually interacting responses. The purpose of evolution seems to be to create more elaborate and complex systems that are better able to both evoke response and to respond. Evolution does move towards greater complexity. And in that complexity we have more potential, more ability.

In this the development of the individual’s potential is inevitably bound up in the realization of society’s potential. Bach would not have been Bach had the piano not been invented. Bill Gates would not have been Bill Gates had the computer not been invented.


We have no intrinsic properties. Who we are is not a given. We have instead properties that are evoked by the world we live in. If you don’t like who you are, enter or create a new system. Stressed in the city? Go to the beach or step into the woods. Hate political parties? Start a new one.

This is the part that is fascinating. Systems evoke from us our different ways of being, different responses. One response is our creating or changing the systems in which we find ourselves. Writ big, it may mean Protestant or Democratic Revolution. On a  smaller scale, it could simply be changing a relationship. Because until we change our systems, there are whole ways of being closed off to us. We still don’t know all the options for human beings being human because the evolution of society isn’t done yet.


And this process of social change is probably the system through which we have the most potential to realize our potential. Social progress does not just facilitate self actualization. It can be the means for it.

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