IFSR Newsletter 2001 Vol. 20 No. 1 September
Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy was born on 19 September 1901, in Atzgersdorf, a small town that is today part of the 23rd District of Vienna (Austria). It was the first year of the twentieth century which finished few months ago. Due to particular circumstances, which determined the development of his peculiar personality, he managed to relate consistently some cultural aspects of the past of our splendorous civilization, with new knowledge of biological, psychological, social and epistemological aspects of the living world, which he managed to grasp through his explorations. This combination led him to make significant contributions towards the ‘wholistic’ comprehension of paradoxical interactions between science and humanities, materialism and idealism, body and mind,… while learning to examine critically the accelerated trends of civilizing processes. Until today These processes continue to arise from an “utilitarian” know-how that ignores the presence of billions of real human beings. Some decades ago they were already seen as masses of people for being controlled as buyers and consumers of everything, anything and nothing, while a certain percentage of these living objects were considered, from time to time, useful human resources.
He could not simply accept the announcement of a generalized progress which would improve ‘automatically’ the human life or increase ad infinitum the standards of way of life for everybody, simply because it never happened before neither during the time he was alive; but mainly because such an assumption could not be reliably conceived nor could it be feasibly implemented, as it would have made necessary to believe in the limitlessness of planetary circumstances which humans simply would consider granted forever.
He saw civilization changing very quickly from horse-and-buggy to spaceship, and witnessed two world wars, the dismantling of the European empires, the rise and fall of the Third Reich, the beginning of the population explosion and birth control, the impulse given to an absurd technological growth that aimed at producing faster everything and increasing ad infinitum the productivity and efficiency when generating energy, expanding industrial processes, multiplying communications and transportation, improving data processing, enlarging mass media. Therefore he could not ignore the troubling consequences that were very quickly engendered by assumed marginal side-effects produced by magnificent technological innovations supported by superb scientific knowledge. These effects are contradictory because they were and still are causing the whole civilization to become frankly unsustainable.
His critical appreciations made him to believe that the need for a general systems consciousness was a matter of life and death for the future generations, but he “was a true pioneer (and) he suffered a fate not unusual for pioneers: the full recognition of the validity and significance of his theories late in life or posthumously, and the subsequent re-emergence of his original notions in different fields and forms, sometimes without reference to his earlier statements.” International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences “Uncommon Sense. The Life & Thought of Bertalanffy.” Mark Davidson, 1983.
Bertalanffy died in 1972. Until today, most of his warnings have been disregarded by the decision making process that has prevailed since the end of the 2nd World War.
Our civilization looks nowadays as if it were a conclusive achievement of human performances, due to the superb advances of scientific knowledge and the magnificent development of all kinds of technologies and methodologies generated by human intelligence and ingenuity. This civilization has become a contradictory success as it is the engine that generates an increasing number of larger difficulties that are obstructing and impeding the healthy manifestation of life on our unique planet; mainly because the prevailing decision making is exclusively engaged in maintaining profitable business without tackling the evils of overconsumption, the yawning gap between rich and poor, climate change caused by pollution, population growth,… which cause an increasing number of unexpected and devastating impacts,…
From his very significant contributions, one deserves to be appreciated particularly. It is the main outcome of his humanitarian explorations in the living world during the difficult time that he worked in Vienna and consolidated later during his tireless struggle against the behaviourism, the reductionism, the robotomorphism, the zoomorphism, the scientism,… These explorations led him to “envision the basis of a General Systems Teaching “Allgemeine Systemlehre“ which became “an approach to the full spectrum of human problems“: the General Systems Theory. It can even be considered an ideological tool – that we must nowadays continuously develop for finding out how the Systems Movement could better contribute to dealing with the serious problems that face humankind at present.
For the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s birthday (Sept 19, 1901) the systems community will start with the invitation to systems scientists and organizations to visit the Web Site (http://bertalanffy.iguw.tuwien.ac.at/).
Also an International Conference on “Systems Thinking Globally Concerned” with the motto “UNITY through DIVERSITY“ will take place November 1-4, 2001, at the University of Technology of Vienna
J.L. Elohim, Vienna
IFSR Newsletter 2001 Vol. 20 No. 1 September