This tribute series started with a tribute to Eli Goldratt, founder of the Theory of Constraints, who passed away in June of this year. Afterwards, I wondered why one waits until after a person passes away to express gratitude - concretely - on how a person's work has influenced their own work. Rather than ponder on that question, I simply said to myself: Don't wait!
A second tribute followed, to Robert Pirsig ...
Several others will follow, of various lengths, going into different levels of detail - not so much as to what these people have said. They've already said it. Rather, the focus here is what it is has meant to me - literally.
More to come on these aspects, but for now, the key lesson is:
The words "Buckminster Fuller" often conjure up "Geodesic Dome". And rightfully so. A Google Image search reveals the remarkable geodesic dome of Buckminster Fuller:
The Geodesic Dome was Fuller's method of bridging two metrics: volume and strength. A "middle-of-the-road" non-compromising solution to "maximum strength, minimum volume":
"Doing more - with less".
And "doing more - with less" with the geodesic dome was merely a specific application to a more general philosophical idea coined by Fuller: DYMAXION. A Google Image search of this unique word, an aggregation of "Dynamic", "Maximum", and "Ion", reveals not just the geodesic dome, but the dymaxion car, the dymaxion map, and the dymaxion house:
A remarkable plethora not just of original ideas, but practical ideas! This unique combination of originality and practicality - of ideas into practice - suggests a plethora of writing. And he did write. Below is much of my collection of books by (and about) R. Buckminster Fuller:
And "no", I've not read them all. In fact (particularly with the Synergetics series, it's hard to read at all! For example, opening Synergetics up randomly gives me this:
"Real universe probability accommodates the omnidirectional, interaccommodative transformating transactions of universal events, which humanity identifies superficially as environment."
(538.00: Probability (section 538.01)
Who talks like this? More important (to me): Who can read this? More on this in a bit.
And given this enormous volume of work, of originality, of creativity, of practicality ... one wonders, "How"? Was he born a genius, or did he become a genius? If it's the former, then apparently it's just a matter of luck as to who can be a genius - and who not. However, if it's the latter, maybe we all have a chance! And then the key question becomes, "HOW"? What was the source of this remarkable man's output? Because, as da Vinci reminds us, "He who has access to the fountain, does not go to the waterpot".
What lies at the "Fuller-fountain"?
Yes - literally - AND figuratively.
What do I mean by "silence"? What do I mean by noise? Let's suppose we meet on the street, and you say "Hi, Mike".
"Hi, Mike". That's it. I ask myself, "What was that?" "Can I explain what just happened?" Let's try.
I heard "Hi, Mike".
What does this mean, "I heard 'Hi, Mike'?"
How did these words get from your mouth to my ears? Have you ever thought about what happens in-between two people when they speak?
The air molecules jiggle. That's pretty simple.
Let's put this together, and see if this clarifies our understanding of "Hi, Mike".
Is this the case?
Just reading this - logically - it's obvious our understanding is awful. It's absurdly poor. It's embarrassingly poor. And I'm tempted not even to respond, when I think about this, because, in trying to figure out what has just taken place - A MERE TWO WORDS OF GREETING - I don't know. It can be paralizing! But it can also be refreshing. And liberating!
For example, merely doing this brings to light many things that stand out, immediately. In no particular order:
1. You've said words. How did they "get spoken"? Other animals don't speak. What in the nature of a human allows words to be not only formed, but communicated?
2. When a word is spoken, what exactly is transmitted that disrupts the air between two people?
3. If there was not air - as in space - could I speak? If I spoke, could you hear?
4. If the air molecules between us are "jiggling" in the communication of the words, why are they not disrupted by other people speaking? Or other forms of communication?
5. What happens when my "system" --- ear --- receives the incoming molecules?
6. The ear is merely the receiving mechanism. How does the brain "decode" the incoming message, making it understandable.
All of this, merely by trying to figure out what the words "Hi, Mike" mean. Of course, as one goes down this chain of understanding, the number of questions that arise expand exponentially. What started as mere words becomes an exploration into the physics of the brain, anatomy, atmosphere, etc.
And if one decided to question what he really knew, one realizes - very quickly - it's not a whole lot! And when you put yourself to the test - do I really know what I am saying - the answer comes equally quickly: likely not!
Try it. With any simple word. Fog. Television. Rain. Gravity. Printer.
And it's - to me - revealing how quickly, check that, instantaneously, one is silenced. If you're honest with yourself.
And Buckminster Fuller became very honest with himself in 1927. He had lost a daughter. His business had failed. He blamed himself. He blamed others. Why did bad things happen? What was their source? He thought this out standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, contemplating the end of his life?
Why did bad things happen?
Efforts had been made to address man's nature. Was man's nature at the source of bad things. Fuller thought no. Man was basically good. Trying to change his nature - to reform the man - wouldn't do any good.
What was left, then? Reform the environment!
But how does one go about "reforming the environment - and not the man"?
The story behind the following quote is intensely moving. I'll extract only part of it here, and leave the rest for you to read:
"He [B]ucky realized that if he were to follow his resolution to believe only those things that he could verify from his own experience, he must clear his mind of everything he had been told. Many of these things had been contradictory, so that in trying to follow them he had arrived at what he called "a pinch point of pain." Now he must unlearn all the things he had been taught. Eventually he called himself "The most unlearned man in the world."
It seemed to him that all his troubles had begun with words - the most extraordinary tools evolved by man. But tools can be used in the wrong way, and he felt that he had acquired all the fallacious ideas and conflicting thoughts through words that had been spoken to him; and words that he had thoughtlessly spoken - "I became very suspicious of words."
Very logically then, Bucky decided to take a sort of Trappist vow, to declare a moratorium on words. He would not speak to anyone nor allow anyone to speak to him until he was sure what words he wanted to use. He would force himself to really understand what he was thinking, not just parrot words someone else had said to him. Then he would be sure that, "When I made a sound, I really wanted to make that sound."
Buckminster Fuller: At Home in the Universe
If you read Synergetics, you're struck by the technical language. Why? This is why. He spoke precisely, because he "unlearned", and then "relearned" everything. And he was completely honest with himself about whether he, then, "knew it or not". And when previously, we may have said "language", we here could say "An encoding-decoding system of molecular disturbance communication."
And we'd be right - on both counts.
In learning the latter, one encounters many other extraordinary possibilities: why are deaf people deaf? Where has the hearing process failed? If other species communicate verbally, how can we tap into their modes of "encoding and decoding"? And hundreds of other questions.
Why drink from the waterpot, when we have access to the fountain?
Access to the Fountain
A Hell of a Struggle.
But to gain "access to the fountain" is a hell of a struggle. To hold many ideas in one's head is easy. To see what they mean - and how they're connected --- that's a battle!
To move, in other words, from:
We're really brought up - and taught - in the style on the left. "You have a test on Tuesday? Let's teach these ideas. You're now going to history? Let's teach this. What's the relationship between the financial crisis and Medicare? It's not even addressed. Everything is separate. This is "System A" Thinking.
"System B" thinking searches for connections. Causal connections. Logical connections. And if they're not direct, you search for assumptions. Context. This is hard. Damn hard. But the payoff is dramatic ...
"Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."
Who said this? This was Steve Jobs' mantra.
It was also Fuller's mantra.
By another name.
"Call me Trimtab".
I think of it as a simple idea that can generate tremendous change. He thought of himself (as I understand) as "Trimtab", as an example where a single person can make a large change.
"Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, call me Trim Tab."
But there's one warning I'd like to issue here. When - not if - you start down this path of inquiry, do it yourself - to yourself - for a while. As you've seen above, as you dig, the questions literally fly at you from all directions, and you learn pretty quick you can always go as deep as you want. You have to establish a "stopping point" and say, "I'll grant this". I've coined the phrases "Operational Syllogism" and "Contextual Syllogism" to make clear, "Here are the assumptions I'm granting: if this, then this".
If you don't do this, you'll run into the person who claims to want to know, but only asks "OK - but why that, etc." They never stop. They're not genuinely interested in learning.
In this regard, this Richard Feynman discussion is relevant here:
Fuller - To Me
A last note. I've said Buckminster Fuller, particularly with regard to this notion of "Silence", greatly influenced me. That's true. But I came upon it by accident. Of course I knew the story. But I didn't understand the meaning - or significance - of it. How can it be this story greatly influenced me if, when I first read it, I didn't understand it's significance, and only did so after uncovering the power of the process myself? Am I reversing Cause and Effect?
I started a project called "Global Haiku", based on the idea of writing Japanese Haiku - logically - and in doing so, found the principal trouble was even describing what I was seeing!
Additionally, =EQUALS=, as a club, has as it's operating philosophy "to do something". You wouldn't believe how hard that is until you actually try it. For example, there are many great math / science applications on the internet. I love playing with them. I love reading about them. Try to recreate them yourself, however, and you see how literally impossible it is. Something's always missing from the descriptions. And in the process of trying to replicate something else, the amount of learning - of insight - is immense!
And, only after working on projects like these did I realize what (I think) Bucky was up to in 1927 - and the significance of it. And this simple insight has led me to re-read - re-learn - unlearn - everything I knew about Bucky - from a much deeper perspective! The "Geodesic Dome" is now not just a neat structure. It's that, but it's a lot more! This continues now.
His Goal: REFORM THE ENVIRONMENT - NOT THE MAN
His Method: THINK FOR ONESELF
Silence it seems not only is golden - but it leads to gold!
R. Buckminster Fuller ... Well done, Trimtab!