Learning and Panarchy (2004)

Following through references, it’s interesting that Buzz Holling uses the world learning in an article in which he cites Stewart Brand, but the cited article doesn’t.

A recent paper (B. H. Walker, C. S. Holling, S. R. Carpenter, and A. S. Kinzig, unpublished manuscript ) uses the idea of panarchy to suggest the significance of the three modes of learning and discovery.

The first mode is the gradual accumulation of skills and techniques in the r to K phase (see Fig. 1). That is incremental, front-loop learning.

The second mode is the mode of learning on the back loop from ω to α. This is more profound, but still only tests the existing system, opening it to novel combinations that have accumulated from r to K. Some of those can nucleate a new cycle that is a variant, perhaps an appropriate variant, for the next cycle of change. It is very much natural selection in the Darwinian sense, but it does not transform the system. Pursuing the Darwinian metaphor, it involves some novelty in the form of crossovers and recombinations of existing options/ideas, but it does not involve real mutations. Those belong to the third mode.

The third mode of learning is transformational and does concern self-organization that can transform the system into truly novel strategies and processes. This is where transformability lies. It represents true invention that can become reality in the kind of situation in which the system is deeply responsive (vulnerable) to change or where change is desperately needed. The consequences are inherently uncertain and unpredictable. We see those new beginnings now in the possible transformations created by the opportunities and fears opened by, e.g., the Internet, genetic engineering of crops, novel computer and communications technology. It is the transformative capacity of the world and how to nurture it that now comes most vividly to mind. It creates new panarchies.

I could be wrong, but searching on those authors leads to:

… in which the term learning doesn’t appear.

Holling is reading Brand, and cites The Clock of the Long Now rather than How Buildings Learn.

In a biological, evolutionary setting, it is a time in which mammals can replace dinosaurs as the dominant life-form. The back loop is the time of the “Long Now” (Brand 1999), when each of us must become aware that he or she is a participant.

So, making that direct connection between Panarchy and Learning ) in the sense that Stewart Brand meant it, is a connection that is left to the reader.

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