Not what's inside your head, but what your head is inside

I am growing an appreciation for this line (the title of the thread) that @daviding includes in many of his slides.

It dramatically transforms how you think about how you think and where you locate the thinking. I guess I’m used to locating my thinking in my head and “I” am responsible for carrying my thinking around. But when I now locate my thinking coupled with the environment that I’m moving through or interacting with, it brings a whole new dimension to considering how one might approach systems changes.

@daviding this is Bateson’s Ecology of Mind concept, correct? Would you say this is a foundational concept, like a premise, to Systems Changes, running through it all? Or does this consideration come into one of the 5 steps / questions?

For the benefit of those who haven’t heard the lecture as many times as @zaid_khan, here is the slide from the 2020 OCADU lecture.

There video of that January 2020 OCADU lecture, but I don’t get to the slides until about 3 minutes before the end of the lecture, at 1h15m38s.

The slide also shows up in a September 2019 Systems Thinking Ontario talk, around 1h14m27s , where there’s more time to lay out the idea.

This is a contrast between …

  • a behavioral approach to psychology (e.g. B.F. Skinner ringing the bell and having the dog salivate) and

  • an ecological approach to psychology (e.g. J.J. Gibson trying to figure out how a navy pilot lands a plane when the ship is moving with the waves).

As we think about Systems Changes – and Zaid is taking this in human sense, specifically – do we focus …

  • on the changes inside the person (in the mind, or in the head), or

  • on the changes outside the person (that Trist might describe as a field, that extends outwards into a larger environment)?

My personal orientation has been NOT to try to change people, but to change the contexts or situations in which they are placed.

  • In this sense, you may hear me say “if I was in his shoes, I might have done the same thing”.

With others, we can open doors for others, but it’s up to them to walk through. We can judge by revealed preferences, rather than espoused theories.

The references can trace to Open Innovation Learning (2017-2018), section 9.2.

Ecological anthropology studies the organism’s exploratory movement through the world (310).

Footnote (310) unpacks that.

  1. Ecological anthropology, as practiced by Tim Ingold, builds on the ecological psychology of J.J. Gibson. “Gibson wanted to know how people come to perceive the environment around them. The majority of psychologists, at least at the time when Gibson was writing, assumed that they did so by constructing representations of the world inside their heads… The mind, then, was conceived as a kind of data-processing device, akin to a digital computer, and the problem for the psychologist was to figure out how it worked. But Gibson’s approach was quite different. It was to throw out the idea, that has been with us since the time of Descartes, of the mind as a distinct organ that is capable of operating upon the bodily data of sense. Perception, Gibson argued, is not the achievement of a mind in a body, but of the organism as a whole in its environment, and is tantamount to the organism’s own exploratory movement through the world. If mind is anywhere, then, it is not ‘inside the head’ rather than ‘out there’ in the world. To the contrary, it is immanent in the network of sensory pathways that are set up by virtue of the perceiver’s immersion in his or her environment. Reading Gibson, I was reminded of the teaching of that notorious maverick of anthropology, Gregory Bateson. The mind, Bateson had always insisted, is not limited by the skin” (Ingold, 2000b, pp. 2–3).

This passage shows how Tim Ingold integrates the ideas of J.J. Gibson and Gregory Bateson. The ideas were there, but it’s not until I was reading Ingold, that everything fell into place.

The ecological perspective and the behavioral perspective are two sides of a coin. That being said, Ackoff describes authentic systems thinking as synthesis preceding analysis, so I would hope that an ecological perspective would precede a behavioral perspective.

The five questions (learnings) are founded in different philosophies (which is how I keep them straight). We should check ourselves that we’re thinking both ecologically and behaviorally in all five question.


Masterfully assembled response. Thank you David.

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