You cannot design anything without understanding the forces that flow through the design. Imagine designing a house without understanding how water flows through it, or electricity, or the force of gravity via mass across structure.
Still in homes, and in home design and repair we have plumbers, electricians, contractors etc., each trained in their respective jobs, each a specialist….while in many cases, little thought is given to what we might call whole systems architecture. Also, rarely do architects think about a human as a flow system of perceptions and senses and design according to flows and movements of light, smell of lavender at the south facing window, touch of reclaimed barn wood and stone.
The same is typically true of automotive design. As an example, here is what the Armory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute had to say about whole systems thought as applied to automobiles:
“Not only does systems thinking point the way to solutions to particular resource problems, but it also reveals interconnections between problems, which often permits one solution to be leveraged to create many more. Take cars, for example. Cars are extremely complicated, so automotive engineers and designers specialize. Their job is to make a given component or subsystem the best it can be. This is how the modern automobile has evolved, through an incremental process of small improvements to individual components, without much change to the overall concept. The trouble is, optimizing isolated parts often “pessimizes” the whole: integration and synergy are lost; complexity, oversizing, and inefficiency abound. What’s lacking is a sense of the big picture, the whole system. Whole-system design means optimizing not just parts but the entire system (in this case the car). Naturally, this is more difficult at first. It takes ingenuity, intuition, and teamwork. Everything must be considered simultaneously and teased apart to reveal mutually helpful interactions.”
And yet, we still are a world of specialists that rarely collaborate to get a systems perspective. Why? Perhaps because a systems perspective often leads to a style of thought that considers the benefits to all life everywhere when creating any new invention or design. If a win-win solution for all of life cannot be had, a systems scientist might reconsider the design of the solution.
Acupuncture as Systems Theory
A person is not a gadget, not a machine, not a bag of biochemicals, and yet the reductionist stance of western medicine prevails. A most obvious case of specialization over systems thought occurs in medicine. Because the body is biochemically complex, patients are often referred from specialist to specialist, each an expert in his or her domain: cardiology, nephrology, gastroenterology etc. And most of those doctors do not think in terms of systems. Because a person is embedded in a network of relationships: community, town, nation, world, galaxy etc., and because their bodymind is composed of relationships among cells, organs, meridians etc., highly specialized medicine often fails people.
Acupuncture evolved in a culture of thought that emphasized systems — a human is embedded in a culture, which is embedded in nature, embedded in a world, embedded in a cosmos.
Thinking of humans as whole systems, within larger whole systems, allows more ecological understanding and solution oriented thought in healthcare. As practitioners of Chinese medicine, we are concerned with the health of people in every area of their lives, and we also realize that the health of the planet is the health of a person because we are literally the earth expressed in the unique form we call human. As the ecological and systems thought of East Asian Medicine gains traction in the west, we can look forward to a time when the systems thought of Chinese medicine does not compete with western medicine, but rather completes it.