I get asked this a lot: where would you go with Synergetics, if it were going anywhere? Mostly they just see me in the junkyard, sitting in some rusted hulk, pretending it’ll take me places. Very Sesame Street.
For those just joining us, some backstory: Synergetics in two volumes was the magnum opus of a famous futurist of the 1900s, one Buckminster Fuller, or Bucky for short. He steered clear of becoming a Jonestown style cult preacher, but sometimes not by much, as he’d speak for hours on end to rapt hippies enjoying their favorite brand of “opium” (a catch-all) in whatever campus setting.
Before I address myself to that story more, let me yak about my own background. The Art of Memory, by Frances A. Yates, about the mnemonic arts, Hermetic Tradition, Fludd, Dee, Shakespeare and so on, was influential. As a child in the early days of VR (“virtual reality”) I was keen to see the metaphoric Memory Palaces taking shape in Cyberia, if you know that place (grin). The internet had barely gotten started, yet we were already imagining a shared dollhouse of sorts. Dr. Vannevar Bush called it the MEMEX way back in 1945.
Add to the above, Little Prince, the children’s book, and we get to my roadmap for Synergetics. Fuller was laying the foundation for knowledge domains, each a reflection of all the others, to be as planets, or glass beads, each networking in the round, not on a plane (plain).
The core observation of Synergetics, not unique to Synergetics, is that a polyhedron is also a network. We take that for granted these days, but that wasn’t always the case. Also: by “network” or “nodes and edges” we also mean “roadmap” or “graph”. Planets may behave as biospheres, connected in the round.
We all have a memory to keep organized, or call it a “heap”. Schools have passed the torch with tips and tricks for keeping our thoughts organized. Orators were especially in need of techniques, but not only them.
We have no reason to denigrate an art as mundane as arranging icons on a desktop, as “esoteric”. Housekeeping and garbage collection would be no less so.
Only because it deals with the imagination, pre CRT, pre LCD, do we consider such a discipline somewhat off the deep end. We’ve externalized what used to be only mental. Nowadays, we think in terms of computer science.
Synergetics is both cybernetic (about steering) and janitorial (about maintenance). You might say it’s a “self help” discipline, as in “help yourself”.
For those wanting to know more about Synergetics, let me just say it’s redolent with Neoplatonism, whereas ironically the author was consciously trying to purge (flush) much of our inherited cultural content, such as much use of ancient Greek letters. He does mention Plato, Euclid, and a few others.
Most critics decry how little pi we get, but in my circles we miss our phi even more, and have introduced phe, pho and phum for good measure (along with fe, fi, fo, fum, as subdivisions of E-modules, oriented in two ways, and sliced by a thirty-one great circle network of icosahedral origins).
No theta, no beta, no alpha. However he does use some conventional tropes, such as point-labeling and certainly the surd (the root or radical symbol) is everywhere. Vectors convey energy in synergetics whereas in many language games they don’t, as energy is a scalar quantity. Directed energy beams and electrical circuits vector energy through time insofar as energy has a direction.
Fuller faulted us for our hubris in thinking nature might be relatively imperfect next to our logic, because we could compute pi to a trillion places, whereas she never needed to, unless using us, and our computers, to show off her digit-making powers. Bubbles arise in the wake of a ship by the billion, without any “rounding error” thanks to some insufficient computational ability.
Energy phenomena resolve quickly, at some quantum digital level, below which we don’t have to bother with unresolved loose ends. The mirage of “infinite precision” we get from imagining pi to a trillion digits, is mere bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. We’re looking more at “confusion” and “superstition” than at “perfection” when it comes to the reals.
Of course real number aficionados beg to differ, boasting their level of precision exceeds any limitations of instrumentation. But then what is instrumentation if not more physical circuitry? The limits of our instruments define the limits of our certainty within the physical realm. Do numbers we only imagine to be infinitely precise actually exist? Do we call them “real” to compensate for their tenuous fragility in a web of fantasies?
What nature has over these spooky thoughts of ours about what’s really real in the Platonic world, is energetic existence.
We do not have the power to think our thoughts about infinity into reality, so in that sense the physical wins.
We can dream all we like about pi. The only real special case circles belong not to our imagined-as-perfect imaginations, but to an energetic rendering engine not of our own design. We’re embedded as synergetic-energetic threads, so-called world lines, or scenarios, but not as demigods.
These meditations about the nature of nature are well-worn pathways in the Philosophy Desert. Many a camel train has trod through here without Fuller’s (or my) 4D branding.
I hesitate to dwell on his critique of math’s foundations, or Wittgenstein’s, when I’ve yet to get down to business. I should unpack and unwrap the concentric hierarchy, as if from a box on a camel’s back. Lets get to the core concepts and not idle the night away. We may not cross paths again, at this oasis.
Fuller’s considerations around third powering, and around how we might liberate the “dimension” concept to become more independent, less a slave to “powering” in general, deserve more focus, especially when we’re talking about some “roadmap” for Synergetics in particular.
Philosophy in general is less my focus in this essay, as that desert is endless, especially when one travels by camel.
You might think one of the English keyboard characters would be a square or box. APL (A Programming Language) had both a box and an arrow.
But then we augment English with Unicode, although I’m being creatively anachronistic in putting it that way. English does not stop making sense outside of its twenty six letters and punctuation symbols. Ditto Synergetics.
Maths come with their own typographies, their own hieroglyphics, is what I’m saying, borrowing heavily from ancient Greek. We have both capital sigma and lowercase sigma and they often play together on the same web pages.
Capital sigma usually means “sum” and is the jagged discrete maths operator next to Riemann’s, which is tall and slender, more continuous looking, a star symbol in the machinery we call Calculus. Lowercase sigma is for “standard deviation” or maybe serves as an icon for “sigmoid” an activation function at the end of a logistic regression.
Fuller, the author of Synergetics (with a lot of help from E.J. Applewhite), was persuaded that C.P. Snow had put his finger on the problem in diagnosing a widening gulf between readers in the humanities and those using the so-called “universal language” of maths (I’m using the English plural — Anglo-American speakers just say “math”). Only a tiny percent could read the universal stuff, which made it somewhat similar to Latin’s role in the church.
So Fuller resolved to give his core ideas their full expression in some brand of prose geared for the intelligent layperson, and Applewhite, a CIA guy with an intact BS meter, was his main guinea pig — in addition to those rebellious hippies who usually walked out of the auditorium saying “I loved every minute, but have no idea what he said” (clearly a mind-blowing experience).
Applewhite was big into filing, memory management. I know that from personal experience, from seeing how his third floor Georgetown apartment was packed with file cabinets. A lot of people sent him stuff, plus he was an avid reader. He liked Nature magazine most of all it seemed. His Paradise Mislaid displays his commitment to scholarship and erudition.
I’m reminded of Glenn Stockton, likewise with a background in intelligence (NSA, Antioch College) and a good eye for quality books, which he reads before filing. Ditto magazine articles, including Nature. Glenn follows the macroscope literature especially, given his Global Matrix, with its hexapent design.
There’s no way to curate all that collateral in one’s head. Ed’s goal was to be more of an archivist, good at both storage and retrieval. His commitment was to organize the information and make it available. Bonnie DeVarco, a member of the BFI staff, was one of Ed’s proteges. She helped with a lot of the archiving. Trevor Blake would be another, picking up a project started by Joe Moore. Stanford University keeps much of Fuller’s stuff, much as Oregon State keeps the Linus Pauling archive.
In other words, thanks to my background, I see Synergetics as a contribution to memory management. By “memory” I include what’s within the human brain, as much as within any computer with a VR setup. Synergetics is taking us in the direction of graph theory and graph databases (think of planets).
Planet Python could well be a destination in this cluster, don’t you think? We need Big Data and Machine Learning for sure.
Pattern recognition is not an overnight process, not when the patterns are new. Tetrahedrons already on the shelf might seem self evident, but remember when those particular shelves were still empty.
This so-called “heap” or Memory, does have a specific structure in this literature. We leave it to competing disciplines to take us back to Minecraft World, with everything cubes. Our scaffolding is less rectilinear.
In fact, we’re all about the CCP, the “cubic close packing” which Fuller shared with less of a cubic bias as his “IVM” or isotropic vector matrix.
The CCP (or FCC) is well-known to supermarket vendors and cannon ball stockpilers, although maybe not by that name. Sphere packing has not been a chief topic in MSM (mainstream media). Sesame Street never did a segment on it, that I can remember.
Stacking square layers of balls into half octahedrons is perfectly acceptable. Each layer knows exactly where to come down atop the previous layer, like Mayan Pyramids. If you stack with triangles instead, you might stray away from the CCP into the HCP (hexagonal close packing) and from there into any of the random Barlow Packings (as J.H. Conway favors calling them).
Crystallographers know this lingo. Fuller collaborated with Dr. Arthur Loeb, whereas Applewhite always admired J. D. Bernal. Whether those two ever met I still don’t know, although it would not surprise me. Applewhite got around.
Philosophers want something fragile and delicate in their web, or it won’t seem like the real deal. My sketch of Synergetics probably sounds much too clunky and prosaic to capture the butterfly nuances — which must explain why the world eventually moved on, and why Kirby is sitting here in the junk yard, twisting and turning the wheel and saying “meep meep” (tooting his own horn).
Are those VR glasses he has on? That might explain a lot, come to think of it.
Indeed. I’ve been known to refer to our Concentric or “Cosmic” Hierarchy as “the Sesame Street of Synergetics” meaning it’s well-known most central neighborhood, with its expected, frequently appearing neighbors, some of whom we expect to see daily, like Big Bird.
These players are polyhedrons and such, which may take on the dimensions of temperature and pressure, implying volume at some scale. Pre-frequency polyhedrons belong to some some science fiction holodeck, whereas adding frequency means adding energy, real materials.
Are we talking about boiling water on a stove, a future soup perhaps, or is this about star stuff and solar fusion? The frequency spectrum provides that full range of scales, from the most micro to the most macro.
The Sesame Street polyhedrons provide a pre-frequency backdrop (4D) which we then scale (enter third powering and more), adding more dimensions and other special case features. Time/size enters in.
With such a context established, a next stop might be Algebra City (see blogs), a cyber-world known for its many professors (all gendered) of linear algebra, group theory, number theory, cryptography and so on.
These folks have dominion over their own namespace and once we’ve beamed in (or “down” as the locals might think of it), we’re not to overly concern ourselves with affairs of the Mother Ship. When in Rome…
We’re here to semi-forget our native language and learn others. We want to learn about Euclidean distance in hyper-dimensional phase spaces. Teach us about polytopes and eigenvectors and Principal Component Analysis. We’re eager to apply Machine Learning to our world game challenges.
What I’m coming to regarding Sesame Street is that we’ve since adopted that same approach, pioneered by Children’s Television Workshop. Some parents maybe complained that the format pandered to shorter attention spans, but then we need to learn “browsing” as much as we need to learn “diving deep”.
Today we call it Youtube, owned by Alphabet. Another dream comes true, another prayer is answered. Many of the scenarios are quite short. Teachers may customize their lectures around several. What a bonanza!
In a previous chapter, as a then contributing editor consultant for McGraw-Hill, I approached CTW in response to an RFP (request for proposals), looking for how to take their successful show to a next level. I wrote about my Videogrammatron idea (you might find some of the old memos, internet archived), which foretold of our present world.
We’d have artful shorts on these higher math topics, and many other topics besides. They’d be search engine retrievable. This was around 1984, and I had yet to return to Portland. I worked with Ray Simon and Nola Hague, on the 28th floor, Rockefeller Center, Avenue of the Americas.
If you’re familiar with the original show (Sesame Street) that was the format already: as viewers, we lived within this predictable neighborhood, populated with puppets, a kind of “toontown”, and with that established, we were free to repeatedly visit Planet A or Planet Ten, where dots connected about these important concepts (these letters and numbers).
Repetition was a feature, not a bug. We’d see the same animated shorts and skits over and over. We were told these letters and numbers were somehow the sponsors of the show. Sesame Street was brought to us by the Letter A and the Number Three.
I got to thinking about “hypertoons” later prototyped in Python, wherein playheads would randomly wander through networked scenarios, with smooth segues through switch points. On the coffee shop LCDs: reveries.
Why do I feel a need to give reassurances, that a CCP backdrop and some “usual suspect” polyhedrons, might not give enough airtime to Linear Algebra? What’s the story there? Why should such an open design give some an experience of claustrophobia?
When Fuller was first trying to publicize his ideas, he hit a brick wall, kind of like Wittgenstein did with his new kind of philosophical investigation. People were not ready for either philosophy, and Fuller, a showman at heart, resorted to doing a lot of public relations and self promotion. He believed in his product. He made some bold claims.
The only reason any economy looks attractive is when it actually delivers on some of what it promises, and the shelter solutions Fuller was coming up with did look pretty doable. He had his fan base, his supporters. Getting support for positive future world game projects was not easy, and Synergetics was one of his selling points, as he could get universities to admit they had no one on faculty prepared to teach it.
These were the bad old days as far as many were concerned, as students were flocking around various “dubious personae” (Timothy Leary, John Lennon…) and neglecting their duties to God and country. These were the days of mass conscription for a lot of wars, and Fuller was claiming these war-making institutions were of waning relevance.
Youthful idealism, the generation gap, lots of rioting and protests, left many with the impression that Fuller Disciples were troublemakers. There could be no talk of assigning his Synergetics to students of American literature, let alone philosophy, not when established orthodoxies were under siege. The tetrahedron would need to sit on the shelf, and not challenge the cube in any public arena. The one aspect of Fuller’s career we could afford to acknowledge back then (outside of Whole Earth Review), was the geodesic dome.
In case you’re not up on your dome lore: for Fuller these were to be aerospace sector, mass produced, and would have lots of high tech smarts. However, underdogs of the 20th Century, eager to put the dome idea to good use, wasted no time knocking out prototypes, some of them quite weather worthy. Others leaked.
J. Baldwin was a pioneer in getting things done. The New Alchemy Institute gets a lot of credit. Then came the Eden domes in Cornwall. However these are just among the best known research projects. One could fill museums with the many attempts, not forgetting Biosphere 2.
If domes were inherently leaky then you might not see them topping oil tanks as often.
I sometimes drive by the Tacoma Dome, but have no memories of ever being inside it. I go by on I-5, the famous freeway. I used to live closer to I-95 in New Jersey.
Four CCP balls that touch one another likewise define the borders of a container, an inside. Three sticks tied together at some apex come down to the dirt. Strings between the legs could prevent them from further slipping and spreading, as they hold the weight of something heavy hanging at the center.
The stress of gravity pulling the heavy weight down tightens the strings that keep the legs together. The legs are like bones and take on the compressive load. Synergetics reaches into our Real World of tension and compression from its pre-frequency Neoplatonic realm, through little stories such as this one.
The pressure of steam against steel and other metals is likewise a test of their tensile properties. Metal is great at withstanding pressure, both from within and without.
I used to scuba, with a tank of high pressure air on my back, safely held. A valve at the top let air in, but not out, unless operated just the right way by an attached regulator, the device used to pipe air to mammal lungs.
The human rib cage is compressible and the muscles attached to it are far too weak to expand against the crush of an ocean, so unless the air were pushing out with equal force, a little more, there would be no in-breathing. The aqua-lung was a great invention.
Fuller said somewhere that the Union (meaning that part of the United States that was not trying to secede), won the Civil War because of greater tensile strength. He also wrote about alloys and their tensile properties, which is where he loses a lot of readers.
Fuller was keen to marry “tensile” with “gravitational” and “compressive” with “radiational” in ways we don’t find in internationally accepted physics. Readers slam the book shut saying “this is not physics” and they have a point. Planet Physics is a namespace like Linear Algebra. We should embrace it in its own terms, which shift in meaning over time even without Synergetics making waves.
What “coheres” Universe (a proper name in Synergetics) is the metaphysical integrity of the generalized principles themselves. Current writers speak of “the anthropic principle” and the multi-verse, suggesting our uni-verse is special case, the one we happen to survive in, against a backdrop of what for us, would be conscious impossibilities.
Gravity seems to counterbalance another tendency, which is evident in radio phenomena and electromagnetism more generally: that of broadcasting. Even directed energy beams are somewhat the opposite of gravity wells. Energy flies away, dissipates, in all directions. In other circumstances, energy concentrates, builds up, gathers potential.
The fire must be fed, continuously. Energy expends and expands, doing work.
Gravity conserves, saves, reflects back upon, provides a concave inner membrane, a way to keep heat in. Gravity is stretched in ways that counter radiation, but not always in some equal and opposite manner. Synergetics makes much ado about “precessional effects” that seem well outside the Newtonian repertoire.
All of which is to say, none of this is very Newtonian sounding. Fuller’s gravity sounds more “cave man” than Anglo-educated. But then neither is a gravity that repels very Newtonian sounding, and yet is a feature in many a contemporary cosmology. Different namespaces abound.
In sum, I’m thinking Synergetics has never been in the way of CERN or tried to muscle in on the particle zoo. Fuller speculated from his vantage point, leaving it to future science what to keep of those bleeps.
There’s graph theory here, and dots connecting, per Feynman diagrams.
World lines in collision. Lots of spinning and dancing.
Again, my remarks make more sense to the ears of those offended by so-called “Fuller Disciples” back when it seemed they were attempting to end run the “energeticists” with some form of misbegotten metaphysics.
I’m suggesting instead a Memory Castle model, or framework, that provides its own context, inside of which the many disciplines are carefully curated and kept in mint condition within temperature-controlled non-oxidizing environments.
Or, if they’re metabolic processes in need of oxygen, then such is supplied, at an appropriate pressure and in comfortable combination with other gasses, adding up to a breathable atmosphere. Some procaryotes may require more sulfur and higher temperatures, a liquid surroundings. Universe does conserve, even if what’s special case is mortal (has a beginning, middle, end). Experience is special case. Gravity is the Void.
Fuller’s Universe is not a static concept, not a unitary thing, and only as such is it eternally regenerative, as concepts, likewise things, have their arc, their trajectory. We may think of it as a “perpetual motion machine” but in what sense is “machine” more meaningful than “design” or “pattern integrity”?
Does anyone still think army tanks are necessary, or helicopter gunships? Yes, of course, some still think that way. How about a hundred years from now? The tetrahedron is more ephemeral, especially in the form of four events and the six ways we then have, to connect any two of them. Will we have a discipline known as “physics” set aside from all the others? That’s up for grabs.
The tetrahedron provides a primitive container, such that if we feel contained, or containing, we have a simple icon for that relationship. Mereologists take note.
Does that mean putting a sphere or bubble or cube or other shape on our dashboard or desktop, to signify containership, is somehow verboten? On the contrary, why repeat mistakes of the past? Dogmatism is not required.
Visit all the planets, visit all the stars. The system you construct is yours and yours alone, as a cogito. There’s something right about solipsism, the aesthetic of the lonely, just as there’s something right about no two ocean waves being exactly the same. Special case is special case. Don’t fret it, and feel free to weave in some Synergetics if that serves you. Gravity is your friend.
Addendum on Medium: Castles in the Sky (February, 2019)