Transcending Psychosocial Polarization with Tensegrity
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 22 Mar 2021
Biomimetic Clues to Collective Resilience and Unshackling Knowledge
22 Mar 2021 – This exploration follows from the preoccupation with the current level of poisonous polarization of psychosocial dynamics, as addressed previously (Framing Dynamic Transcendence of Simplistic Cognitive Polarization, 2021). That concluded with a discussion of a Container for polarization — an analogue to geodesic domes?
Given the tensions between one or more polarized perspectives, reference was made there to the potential role of tensegrity structures, whose organizing principle is fundamental to both the architecture of geodesic domes and to that of biological cells (Donald E. Ingber, et al. Tensegrity, cellular biophysics, and the mechanics of living systems, Reports on Progress in Physics, 77, 2014, 4; Samantha Pires, 8 Incredible Structures Around the World That Use Tensegrity to Defy Gravity, My Modern Met, 2 January 2021).
A problem — of which the world now has many — can be understood as deriving from a conflictual polarity. Studied as “problem jostling” by management cybernetician Stafford Beer, he mapped distinct problems onto an icosahedron to derive an integrative understanding (Beyond Dispute: the invention of team syntegrity, 1994). Beer related the pattern of tension and compression to that of a tensegrity structure. The tensegrity possibilities had also been noted on the occasion of the UN Earth Summit (1992) in Configuring Strategic Dilemmas in Intersectoral Dialogue (1992).
Given the demonstrated possibility of geodesic domes — despite their seeming improbability in architectural terms — it would seem that there is indeed potentially the possibility of analogues in psychosocial terms as “containers of polarities”. As previously argued, this would seem to be natural for a knowledge-based civilization dependent to such a high degree on knowledge architecture (Transcending Duality through Tensional Integrity, 1978; From Networking to Tensegrity Organization, 1984; From Zoom Organization to Zome Configuration and Dynamics, 2020).
Knowledge of tensegrity has a long history, dating from the extensive articulation in terms of synergetics by Buckminster Fuller (Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1975; and Synergetics 2: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking, 1979). Curiously however, despite that title and Fuller’s concern with the global management of resources, the strategic and cognitive implications of his work have not been considered, as argued separately (Geometry of Thinking for Sustainable Global Governance: cognitive implication of synergetics, 2009).
A particular concern in what follows is the failure to draw on insights highly relevant to the challenge of polarization. The feasibility of previously unimaginal structures has been demonstrated in massive architectural constructions of global form. It has been upheld as fundamental to living systems (Graham Scarr and Stephen M. Levin, Biotensegrity: the structural basis of life, 2014). Related insights with respect to tension are held to apply within the brain (David C. Van Essen, A 2020 view of tension-based cortical morphogenesis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117, December 29, 2020, 52).
In parallel considerable insight has been derived from biology through the discipline of biomimetics, namely the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. The process of such innovative emulation can be extended to the artifacts of technology (Engendering a Psychopter through Biomimicry and Technomimicry: insights from the process of helicopter development, 2011).
Why is it that so little insight has been derived from tensegrity of benefit to the strategic challenge of polarized global crises? Understood more generally, some have framed this as a problem of silo thinking and a failure of joined-up thinking, now increasingly perceived as vital, especially to communities. It is ironic — even amusing — to contrast the array of institutional silos with the strategic resilience implied by the dynamics of tensegrity structures. Is the formal institutional preoccupation with tensegrity essentially a curious metaphor of its own failure to embody the dynamics it explores? Are university faculties to be understood as “silos” cultivating thinking of that nature? This would follow from the insight of Gregory Bateson: We are our own metaphor.
A further curious phenomenon is the extent to which potentially vital knowledge is “shackled” — if not “incarcerated” — by an overriding preoccupation with intellectual property, copyright and patent claims. This is ironically evident in the early competing claims regarding tensegrity itself by Buckminster Fuller, David Georges Emmerich, and Kenneth Snelson. The associated dynamics extend to selective citation of relevant insights — partly determined by undeclared inter-institutional and inter-personal issues (Knowledge Processes Neglected by Science: insights from the crisis of science and belief, 2012). Should the agents in such disputes be more appropriately understood as forming a tensegrity?
The (necessary?) contradictions are further highlighted by the original patent for tensegrity accorded to Buckminster Fuller (Tensile-integrity structures, United States Patent 3,063,521, 13 November 1962) — to be compared with Fuller’s misleading promotional account of the global significance of tensegrity (Tensegrity – The Geometry of Thinking, Exhibition Catalog, Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, 1976).
The challenge applies as much to “synergetics”, and the developers of those insights, as to tensegrity — most evidently in the imagery illustrative of their future potential, as envisaged by René Motro (Tensegrity: Structural Systems for the Future, 2003). In a period of global crisis, the world is effectively held to ransom — as currently illustrated by the debate regarding the patenting of vaccines (COVID-19 Vaccine: countries call on drug companies to share know-how. The Denver Post, 1 March 2021). More generally it should be asked whether effective remedial strategies can be designed without being embroiled in such narrow, self-seeking preoccupations (Future Coping Strategies: beyond the constraints of proprietary metaphors, 1992).
There is a further irony meriting recognition — given the origin of “tensegrity” as a combination of “tension” and “integrity”. Integrity of any kind — institutional, academic, or personal — is now highly challenged, suspect, if not increasingly elusive. This gives rise to highly divisive dynamics and an associated pattern of tensions. How might the potential of “tensional integrity” then be recognized as fundamental to requisite global resilience?
It is within this constrained context that it is appropriate to explore, however speculatively, the possibility of global configuration of fundamental polarities in the form of tensegrities — recognizing that the cognitive challenge may be dimensionality of a higher order, 4D or more. As an exercise the argument presents the Ten Commandments of the Abrahamic religions as a set of polarities coherently integrated into a dodecahedral tensegrity — to clarify systemically the problematic dynamics relating to “Thou shalt not kill“.
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