An activity of the Primer Group


A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.






Integrative Study:

Notes (Nos.1-9) from Kentucky

By Joe Engleberg

Can the universe be approached
without adopting the viewpoint
of one or another
area of specialization?

The existing systems sciences
employ the conventional methods
of communication and interaction
(lectures, scholarly papers, monographs, etc.)
of the areas of specialization.

Can the goals of integration, systems thought,
be achieved by use of these methods?

Or are these methods
intrinsically inimical
to the goals of the systems sciences?


1. On PhD specialists conversing with other PhD specialists

2. Facing away from the aras of specialization

3. Facing away from specific thinkers, theories, ideologies, religions,
systems of thought, ...

4. What is the language of integrative study?

5. Concision is the hallmark of integrative study; torrents of words belong
to the areas of specialization.

6. The texts of integrative study: framework statements, and case histories.

7. The framework statement, a simple sentence which "anyone" can understand, wherein deep levels of meaning reside, awaiting discovery.

8. How integrative study differs from the scholarly methods of the areas of specialization.

9. Individual study and communal study.

No. 1

PhD's are the most specialized of all human beings:
each of their areas of specialization
even has its own specialized language.

Indeed, each PhD
is virtually an area of specialization.

Even fields with generalist labels
presently have the earmarks
of areas of specialization.

Systems study, however,
cannot be an area of specialization;
a generalist
who claimed to be a specialist in generalism
would be a ridiculous figure.

Who are the myriad generalists/integrators
who hold the world together?
They are homemakers male or female,
some MD's, politicians, statesmen, entrepreneurs,
administrators, religionists, etc.

No. 2

Specialists continually face their areas of specialization;
these fill their consciousness.

Integrators, however, of necessity,
face away from the areas of specialization.

They then do not face nothingness.

Instead the vast integrative structure of the universe
lies before them:

wisdom embedded by nature over 10 billion years of cosmic evolution.

No. 3

To encounter the integrative,
it is not enough
to face away
from our personal areas of specialization
(physics, chemistry, etc.).

We have also to face away from
particular thinkers (Einstein, von Bertalanffy, ...),
particular theories
(quantum theory, chaos theory, catastrophe theory, ...),
specific systems of thought,
particular schools of thought,

specific forms of religion,

Face away from, but not reject.

For if we have acquired insights from these sources,
and wish to share them with others

we should do so only after these insights
have become so integrated into our own consciousness

that we can express them
without using the symbolism and language of the sources,
without referring to the sources by name.

No. 4

What is the language of integrative study?

The language of integrative study
is the language of everyday life.

It is a language
created specifically
for purposes of integration.

Its purpose is
to hold a society of humans together,
and to connect them to the universe.

It is the language
in which integrative texts
of all cultures
are couched.

Each area of specialization
of necessity
uses a special, often arcane, tribal language
which is only understood by its practitioners.

How many of us can understand
a contemporary research paper
on cosmology, chemistry, genetics?

The use,
for purposes of integrative study,
of the rich language of everyday life
is not to be regretted.

This language
is not a poor substitute
for a proper, academic integrative language;

it is a superb integrative instrument.

Our capacity to express an idea in this language
is a measure of how well we have integrated
the idea into our understanding.

In the integrative realm
the temptation to use jargon and technical language
arises whenever our understanding of something
is superficial,

that is, when we are excited about something,
and wish to share it with others
before we ourselves
have fully understood and assimilated it.

Time and patience

lead to the clarification of thought

and the purification of ideas

to the point

where profound ideas

can be expressed

in the language of everyday life.

No. 5

Generating a vast volume of words on specific topics via books, papers,
lectures is a necessity in all areas of specialization.
Can this, then, possibly be the way of integrative study, systems thought?

Concision is the hallmark of integrative study; torrents of words belong to
the areas of specialization.

Each profound thought is encapsulated in a few, simple, fruitful words.

In time an organized, growing body of aphoristic statements arises. It can
become a framework for thought.

A chaotic body of statements (collections of quotations, proverbs, or
insights) cannot serve the purpose.
Each statement must be organically linked to the statement which precedes it
and the one which follows.

No. 6

Integrative study centers on two types of texts:
framework statements (concise encapsulations of integrative wisdom)
and case histories (medical, social, industrial, etc., works of literature,

The ultimate text of integrative study is the story.

It is through their stories that we come to grips
with the inner structure and meaning of a variety of systems.

Each story tests us:

It says "If, as you think, you have understanding, don't describe the system
of thought you have adopted or invented.

Instead, reveal the power of your understanding, the range of your thought,
by thoughtfully plumbing the depths of a story;

and do this in dialogue with other systems thinkers;

and without referring to the formal aspects of your system of thought."

This test tells us whether we have integrated the system of thought which we
admire into our inner being,

or whether it is merely something

which resides at the surface of our consciousness.

It also reveals what little we know and is known,
and what needs to be worked on
(huge areas of systems dynamics which are still completely shrouded in mystery).

No. 7

As to framework statements:

A framework statement is a simple sentence
which "anyone" can understand,
wherein deep levels of meaning reside, awaiting discovery.

The statement serves as a catalyst for integrative thought,
failing to do so if it is not evocative.

It does not stand alone,
but is part of a chain of statements
to which it is organically related.

To read a framework statement and merely nod and say, "Yes, that's right, I
know that"
and go on,
is to have done nothing.

The task of the integrative thinker
is to make each framework statement come to life,

by uncovering and revealing the layers of meaning hidden within it,

and connecting the statement to a constellation of thought.

This work of uncovering and connecting
is not performed in isolation,
but is carried out in dialogue
with other thinkers.

Examples of framework statements:

Every form of life
is continually and inescapably
subject to ever present
disintegrative influences
-- blind forces --
which cannot be totally or perpetually

To remain alive
a system must continually
re-integrate itself --
or perish.

An integrative matrix
forges the parts
into a living whole.

An unintegrated element
must be
integrated or ejected,
else it is a threat
to the integrity
of the system.

No. 8

The work of specialization

involves creating and polishing speeches to be delivered, on occasion, at
distant places, to members of an audience who are there to deliver their own
each presentation is followed by a few minutes of scattered responses from
the audience;

conferences often consist of sequences of unrelated or only remotely related

scholarly papers and books are directed at audiences of anonymous readers from whom the author only rarely hears.

While we are busy trying to impress remote, anonymous colleagues, we tend to neglect resources within our immediate environment, institutions, and community.

Such approaches facilitate the achievement of goals in the areas of specialization; but can they possibly give rise to the integration we seek?

No. 9

Integrative study requires both
individual study
and communal study.

Communal discourse
takes the form of
dialogue, active thought,
(as opposed to prolonged periods of passive listening).

To undertake communal integrative study:

we leave at the door
our areas of specialization, titles, religions,
ideologies, systems of thought, favorite thinkers,
... even our genders;

the focus is on ideas
rather than on their sources;

therefore, we refrain from referring
to specific thinkers, authors, books,
ideologies, systems of thought, ... ;

and, also, subject ourselves to the following discipline,
indispensable to integrative discourse:

To every statement
in the English language
there is a domain

over which the statement is true
and a domain
over which the statement is false:

in integrative study we focus only

on the domain
over which the statement which lies before us
appears to be true;
we ignore the domain over which it may be false:

in essence, we approach the other (text or person)
with generosity.

Integration involves
creating a structure out of positive elements;
the negative elements
fall away in time, cancel;
the positive ones endure.

Joseph Engelberg
Office of Integrative Studies
and Department of Physiology
University of Kentucky Medical Center
Lexington, Kentucky 40536-0840

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