Reading Synergetics: Some Tips

This is a slightly updated version of the original as published in Vol. 6 No. 3 (Autumn 1991) of Trimtab.

Reading Synergetics: Some Tips

Synergetics has lucid, clear passages and very difficult passages. Both occur in each chapter. I feel there are several reasons for the difficulty of the text. First, Fuller does his best to avoid being misunderstood and so chooses sentences that tend to be intractable until one looks at them from an appropriate angle. Most reader's school-taught reflex thinking is a little off from the world view proffered by Synergetics. Finally, it seems to me that Fuller has presented the material so as to ask the reader to re-discover the validity of the ideas in their own terms - Fuller has no Key to the Universe. The doors are already open! Until one is determined to read Synergetics systematically (no one says you must read a book sequentially), one can get quite a lot out of the text by browsing it. I would recommend reading chapter eight "Operational Mathematics" before beginning a systematic study of the text. This chapter reveals much about Fuller's perspective, concerns and methodologies in a relatively readable presentation. By building the models described and carefully examining Fuller's approach, one will begin to see some of the crucial points necessary to understand synergetics. After reading "Operational Mathematics" one could begin a sequential study of the text or continue browsing interesting passages. Once one decides to take the plunge into the inviting waters of this tome, these tips may prove useful:
  1. Chapter 2 is like the "claims" section of a patent application. It is more summary than introduction. Most of its content is better explained later on. If you get stuck, you can skip it.
  2. Start a Synergetics notebook. Include questions and problems you have with the text and its content. Write an analysis of these difficulties. Record your hypotheses about what Fuller is trying to say in each passage. Also include any reflections or ideas that the text may inspire (even if they seem far removed from its gist). The idea is this: the text interacts with itself synergetically. So it is important to have well developed ideas about each section. Then you can build upon your dawning understanding as you read additional passages and try to integrate them. By degrees comprehension will come!
  3. Build models to visualize and test concepts and assertions in the text.
  4. Remember you are really only interested in the truth. Fuller challenges us to develop our own notions about reality. Fuller's writing seems to say "here is something that is very interesting. This is what I think about it." Look at the system he points at. Search for the significance, properties and interrelationships of these systems.
  5. Think of Synergetics as a guide to discovering Universe. The particular ideas presented may be less important than the effect upon one's attitude, thinking processes, and way of looking at the world.
  6. Recognize that any path-opening work will have some contradictions and scattered errors in it. Try to ferret them out and resolve them.
  7. Synergetics is NOT a program which you plug into your head (it is not a super algorithm for understanding the Universe). It is, instead, a world view or approach one takes to look at the world. It is often more revealing than one's previous views.
  8. Synergetics is systemic. Often we try to get a one frame-view of Universe. But in synergetics we have many interacting systems. We must change our angular perspective to focus on the relationship we are interested in. Often in synergetics some interesting system will only be partially and tantalizingly explored by Fuller in the text. So you begin to ask some of your own questions. Now is the time to begin an investigation - to try your hand at cosmic fishing. In order to answer your questions, you may have to repeatedly change tacks and reconsider the system anew until gradually the resolution of the problem becomes apparent.
  9. If you get a copy of Synergetics 2, read the Demass Model scenario (Sec. 986). This is an excellent introduction to both volumes.

Auxiliary Sources

Many of Fuller's other books are less demanding than Synergetics and provide alternate angles of approach to the material of synergetics. The best introduction to Fuller's work might be Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. However, "Critical Path", "Grunch of Giants," and "Tetrascroll" are all relevant to synergetics. Fuller's essay "Omnidirectional Halo" in "No More Secondhand God" covers the geometry of thinking in a nice presentation. Hugh Kenner's "Bucky" is an outstanding source. But the classic interpretation of Fuller's Synergetics is Amy Edmondson's A Fuller Explanation: The Synergetic Geometry of Buckminster Fuller. Edmondson opens large sections of Synergetics to the previously frustrated reader.

In Synergetics 2 there is a list of scenarios in the text. "Each scenario is a narrative sequence of geometrical exposition written - and intended to be read - as a separate continuity." I have reviewed volume one and have developed a list of scenarios for it. These scenarios are ideal for browsing and becoming acquainted with Fuller's idiosyncratic writing style. They are gems: well written essentials of synergetics.

The Wellspring of Reality Introduction
Synergy Scenario 101.00-153.00
Scenario Universe 301.00-363.00
Closest Packing of Spheres 410.00-419.05
Jitterbug Scenario 460.00-465.30
Deliberately Nonstraight Line 522.00-522.36
Tensegrity Scenario 700.01-707.03
Balloon Scenario 760.00-766.04
Operational Mathematics Scenario 801.00-842.07
Quanta Module Scenario 910.00-924.20
Omnitopology Scenario 1001.00-1009.98
Constant Zenith Projection Scenario 1110.00-1120.12
Numerology Scenario 1210.00

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