The Ethics of Learning from Experience

The way in which any tradition of inquiry and action is practiced is beset with issues about the correct or proper way to conduct inquiry and act within the tradition. Learning from experience has been proposed as a core epistemic virtue for our comprehensivity, our inclination to understand it all and each other. This resource explores several issues which may arise as we consider how we should learn from experience. Buckminster Fuller’s thinking about experiential learning will instigate much of the exploration.

The value of learning from experience, also known as the inductive attitude or empiricism, was introduced in the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller and was further developed in The Inductive Attitude: A Moral Basis for Science and Comprehensivism and has been reprised in the summarizing resources Comprehensivism in the Islamic Golden Age and Dante’s Comedìa and Our Comprehensivity.

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The Whole Shebang: “to understand all and put everything together”

The featured quote in the title comes from Buckminster Fuller’s 1969 book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”. When we previously explored this book in the resource The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller, we described this quote as “the creed of the comprehensivist”. This resource will interpret the quote to identify issues of wholeness in comprehensive inquiry and action.

To gain insights into the wholeness implicit in our highlighted quote, we will consider three additional resources: Buckminster Fuller’s “Synergetics”, Jan Zwicky’s summary of the gestalt theory of learning in “The Experience of Meaning”, and “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman which has an extensive chapter on “The Whole”. This will give us an adequate first-cut attempt at indicating the nature and importance of wholeness in comprehensive exploration.

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The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller

Collaborative comprehensivism is participating in groups to incrementally expand the breadth and depth of everyone’s understanding. An effective tool for its practice is exploring ideas from a book. Some participants may be unable to read the book. To provide them with background and to focus on the key passages to be explored at a particular event, it can be helpful to have a brief for the book. Ideally, the brief will highlight questions to guide and spur a group exploration.

To support book-based events with an example, this resource includes a synopsis of R. Buckminster Fuller’s 1969 book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”. This brief is just one of many possible condensations of the book. It focuses on some of the key ideas that inspired the “Collaborating for Comprehensivism” initiative.

It is common to refer to the author of “Operating Manual” as “Bucky”. To read the book, you can find a copy from a bookseller, or read a 44 page PDF at http://designsciencelab.com/resources/OperatingManual_BF.pdf, or read a web-based copy at https://web.archive.org/web/20041028062223/http://www.futurehi.net/docs/OperatingManual.html. Below there is section offering advice for readers of the book.

"Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth" by R. Buckminster Fuller
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