How To Be a Systems Thinker

Until fairly recently, the artificial intelligence didn’t learn. To create a machine that learns to think more efficiently was a big challenge. In the same sense, one of the things that I wonder is how we'll be able to teach a machine to know what it doesn’t know and that it might need to know in order to address a particular issue productively and insightfully. This is a huge problem for human beings. It takes a while for us to learn to solve problems. And then it takes even longer for us to realize what we don’t know that we would need to know to solve a particular problem, which obviously involves a lot of complexity.  

How do you deal with ignorance? I don’t mean how do you shut ignorance out. Rather, how do you deal with an awareness of what you don’t know, and you don’t know how to know, in dealing with a particular problem? When Gregory Bateson was arguing about human purposes, that was where he got involved in environmentalism. We were doing all sorts of things to the planet we live on without recognizing what the side effects would be and the interactions. Although, at that point we were thinking more about side effects than about interactions between multiple processes. Once you begin to understand the nature of side effects, you ask a different set of questions before you make decisions and projections and analyze what’s going to happen.

MARY CATHERINE BATESON is a writer and cultural anthropologist. In 2004 she retired from her position as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University, and is now Professor Emerita. Mary Catherine Bateson's Edge Bio