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hypothesis that individuals who vary genetically in their capacity to learn (or to adapt developmentally; Ref. [9]) will leave most descendants because they will have the greater capacity to adapt.

In a short and insightful paper that appeared in 1987, Hinton and Nowlan [11] developed a simple computational model based on an extended version of genetic algorithm to demonstrate the magnitude of what was now being called the ‘Baldwin effect’. Their simulation, suggesting ‘how learning can guide evolution’, shows straightforwardly that creatures that are genetically predisposed to learn (in their oversimplified mode) by guessing the solution to a given environmental obstacle, by virtue of having correct settings on all the hardwired alleles, are on average more fit than those who cannot guess the solution. Moreover, their model demonstrated that, without ‘learnable alleles’, pure evolutionary search is completely blind and exceedingly slow.

The Berkeley biochemist, Wilson [12], who in the 1960s introduced the concept of a ‘molecular clock’ (based on genetic mutations that accumulate since they parted from a common ancestor) in evolutionary biology, predicted in 1985 that the presence of cultural factors may create a selective pressure for the ability to learn itself. Based on his early results on quantitative molecular evolution, he developed the concept of a ‘cultural drive’, through which the time required for a population to fix a mutation that complements a new behavior is shorter if the new behavior spreads quickly not only to offspring (vertically) but also to other members of the population (horizontally). His example of this cultural drive was the rise of agriculture that imposed new selection pressures, leading to swift genetic changes in human populations. He then considered the well-known example [13] of the introduction of milk sugar (lactose) into the diet of adults as the result of the invention and social propagation of dairy farming (pastoralism). In the relatively short period of 5000 years, genes conferring the ability to absorb lactose reached a level of 90% in populations dependent heavily on dairy farming, while, in contrast, the level of these genes is virtually zero in human populations that do not drink milk and in all other mammalian species tested. Analyzing the same phenomenon, the correlation of a genetic variation and a cultural trait, Feldman, Cavalli-Sforza, and Zhivotovsky [13] described it as ‘gene-culture coevolution’.

The edge-of-chaos regime is the optimal condition to be in a constantly changing environment, because from there one can always explore the patterns of order that are available and try them out for their appropriateness to the current condition. What is not necessary at all is to get stuck in a state of order, which is bound sooner or later to become obsolete. In that way, complex social systems that can evolve will always be near the transition region, poised for that creative leap into novelty and innovation, which is the essence of the evolutionary process.

‘life is evolution at the edge of disorder’.

In 1987, Modelski (Ref.[19], Chap. 5) proposed that the rise and decline of world powers (known also as the long cycle, the constitutive process of world politics) are best understood as a learning process, and in 1991 [20] described it as “evolutionary learning”. In 1996, he presented the evolution of global politics as a complex system situated at the border between order and chaos (Ref. [21], pp. 331-332)… Modelski and Perry [23] argued that, in the perspective of centuries, democratization is the process by which the human species is learning how to cooperate, and demonstrated that the rise in the proportion of the world’s population living in democracies (now exceeding 50%) is best described as a logistic process of the diffusion of a strategic social innovation.

The pace of the process, and hence the duration of the K-wave, is determined by the two biological control parameters already discussed: the cognitive (the collective learning rate), driving the rate of exchanging and processing information at the microlevel, and the generational, constraining the rate of transfer of knowledge (information integrated into a context) between successive generations at the macrolevel.

typical values for the diffusion learning rate of basic innovations are 16-17%, corresponding to typical time spans of about 25-30 years [generational turnover] for the spread of these radical innovations.

We note, first, the multilevel (or hierarchical) character of this evolutionary analysis. It posits that social evolution is not a singular process with one simple trajectory but an entire cascade across a number of levels—agent, institutional, species-wide—and those evolutionary processes occur or proceed at each of these levels [recall panarchy]. That accords broadly with the position of Gould, described by him as the “hierarchical theory of selection” (Ref. [34], Chap. 8). Contrary to the conventional Darwinian argument, that selection operates solely at the organismic level, and which has recently been expanded to the level of the genes (in Richard Dawkins’ ‘gene selection’), Gould argues that “Darwinian individuals” (those with a reproductive potentiality, hence evolution-capable) may be found across an entire biological hierarchy, beginning with genes and cells, to organism, deme, and species, and it is the last level that is of interest for the present analysis. [how about ecosystem?]

The phenomenon at hand (the cascade of world evolutionary processes) is then a cascade of scale-invariant, interdependent, and structure-transforming processes at several levels of organization of the self-organizing complex world system. In other words, such structure-transforming processes come to existence through the innovation process occurring at the several levels of the cybernetic hierarchy [systems higher in the order are relatively high in information while those lower down are relatively high in energy. That is, in effect, information controls energy (via communication).] and at the several scales of world organization (local, national, regional, and global). But innovations must diffuse in and be learned by society, and the adaptive mechanism of learning is paramount in giving the pace of change at each level.

In as much as “information controls energy”, the cybernetic hierarchy might be seen as the expression of the requirements of learning. This is why, thirdly, each of the four world system processes can be described as an algorithmic (Dennett [37], Chap. 2) learning process, because each might be seen as four-phased, and the phases are ways in which information is transformed into energetic solutions. The phases of a social learning process are generally seen to be (1) developing a variety of information; (2) mobilizing support; (3) choosing and/or deciding; and (4) implementing. Most notably, this concept of learning also comprises the essential elements of Darwinian evolution, namely (1) variation, (2) cooperation, (3) selection, and (4) amplification (differential survival) [9]. This evolutionary concept can also be rephrased as specifying a set of simple rules whose application brings about complex systems. These rules are (1) generate variation; (2) mobilize (and generalize); (3) select; and (4) amplify/reinforce. [recall four phases of adaptive cycle]

our postulated cascade of world system processes: social systems may self-tune their structure to a poised regime between order and chaos (as if by an invisible hand, in Adam Smith’s felicitous phrase, and as Kauffman has pointed out), with a power law distribution of breakthrough events, or in other words, of innovations.

what is seen as self-organization might more precisely also be systemic learning. In more general terms, ours might be recognized as a “learning civilization”. It is good to know, too, that world history might be the unfolding of a millennial learning process. If, as Gould (Ref. [34], p. 1055) maintained, “most evolutionists. . . are historians at heart”, then maybe the reverse could also come to be true.

from this paper.

The concept can be understood by looking at its Table 2: Cascade of modern evolutionary processes.


This blog post tells a good example of my concept of learning. It is the most effective, as people look at the results using their eyes, comparing the results and reflect on the differences. Same input, different interventions, different outcomes. It must be due to the interventions! No cognitive conflict can be stronger than this. By explicitly pointing out this, again and again, people cannot escape but reflect.

If we have two earths (at least two human-hospitable planets), then we can run an experiment – one earth is like now, business as usual; and another earth changes to sustainable course. Wait and see them after Year 2050, we will learn that which one is better choice.

Unfortunately we don’t have another earth to learn. The best we can do is creating virtual earths, or modelling and simulation to test policy interventions. People who don’t like simulation outcome of a model can always complain about its assumptions, since model is never as perfect as the real world. But this is what the best human can do. Study the model as unbiased as possible, learn its usefulness and limitations, examine its assumptions and trace back to understand why the simulation outcome is like that (how the model results that simulation outcome). We can learn a lot even the model is not perfect.

Another way is to learn from history. Of course no history is identical. But similar to modelling and simulation, we can learn its usefulness (insights) and limitations (what may not apply). Understand why the history becomes like that is the most important gain of study history. Generally most of the insights are just repeating. If our civilization is collapsing again, it means we didn’t learn enough history.

While reading Linda Booth Sweeney’s Systems Thinking introduction article, she used speed of the car to explain emergence, property or behaviour that arises only out of interactions of system, cannot gauged from sum of its parts. It leads to me that performance of a computer is also the case. The speed of a computer depends not only on processor speed, but also RAM, hard disk, graphic card, motherboard and even software. Their quality of interactions is very important – good coordination among mediocre hardware and software can beat a computer with top processor but poor graphic card or motherboard!

Another insight learned is to be aware of the delay between teaching intervention and the evidence that students has “learned”:

These kinds of delays can be the biggest reason that unintended consequences happen [or no intended consequences happen]. Why? Because when we don’t see instant results from our actions, we often continue to tinker with the system, coming up with more “fixes” even though we’ve already taken appropriate action. (We just don’t know whether our steps were effective because the results haven’t yet made themselves evident.)

For instance, as frustrated parents of teenagers try to keep in mind, the lessons that you teach your kids about the value of family and community may not “sink in” until the kids reach adulthood.

Make no mistake about it, ignorance is a choice. It doesn’t matter whether you are poor or rich. Books are available to everyone in this country.

We don’t know because we don’t want to know.

Americans have chosen to believe the lies because the truth is too hard to accept.

Becoming educated, thinking critically, working hard, saving money to buy what you need (as opposed to what you want), developing human relationships, and questioning the motivations of government, corporate and religious leaders is hard. It is easy to coast through school and never read a book for the rest of your life. It is easy to not think about the future, your retirement, or the future of unborn generations. It is easy to coast through life at a job (until you lose it) that is unchallenging, with no desire or motivation for advancement. It is easy to make your everyday troubles disappear by whipping out your piece of plastic and acquiring everything you desire today.

Americans love authority figures who act as if they have all the answers.

You are being lied to, but most of you prefer it.

When Jimmy Carter gave his malaise speech in 1979, Americans were in no mood to listen. Carter’s solutions were too painful, required sacrifice, and sought to benefit future generations. The leading edge of the Baby Boom generation had reached their 30s by 1979, and the most spoiled, pampered, egocentric generation in history could care less about future generations, long term thinking, or sacrifice for the greater good. They were the ME GENERATION.

Instead of dealing with reality, adapting our behavior and preparing for a more localized society, we put our blinders on, chose ignorance over reason and pushed the pedal to the medal by moving farther away from our jobs, building bigger energy intensive mansions, and insisting on driving tank-like SUVs, Hummers, and good ole boy pickups.

Kevin Phillips in American Theocracy concludes that there are so many Americans tied to our unsustainable economic model that they will choose to lie to themselves and be lied to by their leaders rather than think and adapt:
A large number of voters work in or depend on the energy and automobile industries, and still more are invested in them, not just financially but emotionally and culturally. These secondary cadres included racing fans, hobbyists, collectors, and dedicated readers of automotive magazines, as well as the tens of millions of automobile commuters from suburbs and distant exurbs, plus the high number of drivers whose strong self-identification with vehicle types and models serve as thinly disguised political statements.

“Our principal constraints are cultural. During the last two centuries we have known nothing but exponential growth and in parallel we have evolved what amounts to an exponential-growth culture, a culture so heavily dependent upon the continuance of exponential growth for its stability that it is incapable of reckoning with problems of non-growth.” – M King Hubbert

Are you tired of lying to yourselves?

“Most of one’s life is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself from thinking. People intoxicate themselves with work so they won’t see how they really are.” – Aldous Huxley

from this post.

Government is also an organization, public organization. As organizations should transform themselves into learning organizations to survive today, so as government.

Hence coined the term “learning government”.

Is your government learning government? Is your government willing to learn?

… Model builders seem to assume implicitly that passing on knowledge, which was acquired through scientific research, is sufficient to convince people to change organizational policies. Studies on the impact of computer models on policy making have convincingly revealed two things. First, in most cases the impact is conceptual (i.e., people learn from it), rather than instrumental. Second, most of the learning takes place in the process of building the model, rather than after the model is finished.

first paragraph of this Foreword twelve years ago.

Just found a good term “learning science”, which I think better describes the “to be discovered” scientific fundamental of learning, especially human learning.

Instructional design, or pedagogy then apply the discoveries of learning science to achieve the instructional goal. Note that learning science does not have goal but instructional design must contain. Instructional design is the “engineering”. Thus it is clear there is a R&D flow from learning science to instructional design, but note that discoveries during instructional design and teaching can be feedback to learning science too. It is not one way but reinforcing loop that potentially greatly advance our understanding of learning and improve the education we desired.

  • There was a strong consensus that educating for sustainability should begin very early in life. It is in the early childhood period that children develop their basic values, attitudes, skills, behaviours and habits, which may be long lasting.
  • It was suggested that, instead of talking about the 3Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic), one should refer to the 7Rs for education for sustainable development (reduce, reuse, recycle, respect, repair, reflect and refuse).
  • Learning about democratic values and practices can and should start in the smallest unit of society – the family – at birth.
  • There is a great deal in the traditions of early childhood pedagogies that align with education for sustainability: e.g. interdisciplinary approach, holism, use of the outdoors for learning, integration of care, development and education, learning through concrete experiences and real life projects, and involvement of parents and communities.
  • non-formal education can be set up – as an integral component of community programmes or otherwise – to provide parents and grandparents with opportunities to discuss what could be done differently in daily life in order to become an effective agent of bringing about sustainable development. Where an early childhood education programme does exist, a parental education can complement what children experience in the programme.
  • It was felt paradoxical that early childhood educators – who have strong infl uence in shaping children’s personality and dispositions – often have very low social and professional status. It is important to improve the status of the early childhood education field and its personnel in the pursuit of realizing a sustainable society… Increasing investment in improving access, quality and equity of early childhood provision and supporting families is an urgent necessity.
  • The work in the early years should not be about teaching how to read and write early and formally. Young children can be encouraged to question over-consumption through discussions about familiar food products, clothes, toys and advertisements. Such discussions could be expanded to incorporate considerations about their counterparts in less materially rich circumstances, and stimulate conversations about solidarity and co-operation.
  • intercultural education … learning to respect and appreciate diversity… developing a sense of themselves as world citizens.
  • the need to collect good practices on education for sustainable development in the early years – found in different countries and cultures – which can inspire and guide the daily work of early childhood educators. Other research ideas suggested were: (a) research on the kinds of knowledge and skills that early childhood educators need in order to provide early education for sustainability; (b) comparative studies of children’s and educators’ attitudes and conceptions about sustainability; (c) collection of life stories from famous people (e.g. Al Gore) about their early childhood experiences and how these might have shaped their values, ideas and actions in favour of sustainable development; and (d) a longitudinal research on the impacts and benefits of education for sustainable development in the early years.
  • From this perspective, should the goals of early childhood education be re-thought and redefined? Should the goal of early childhood education primarily be to promote academic knowledge and competences for successful learning in later stages of education, or should they offer a broader range of knowledge, skills and support, and if so, what are they?

from this report.

There are several good points about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in this paper:

  • the notion of linking knowledge, values, perspectives, and skills/bahaviour (the head, the heart, the hands)… It [ESD] must connect the head to the heart to the hands [I would rephrase it as “connect the heart (value) to the head (reasoning, knowledge) to the hands (action)”].
  • Ultimately the benefit [effectiveness] of ESD must be measured in terms of change behaviour.
  • Education is not sufficient, but it is certainly necessary… reject the notion that either we educate or we use regulation and economic policy instruments.
  • [Some discussions about funding and political setback. It seems to me that the top-down approach of UN Decade for ESD failed to create sustainable commitment to ESD in individual nation or local level. Some things to do.]
  • It would be serious error to ignore the profound shifts in culture and social structure that are already underway in all parts of the globe. [People tends to overlook culture/paradigm shift because it is invisible / less salient, although the accumulation is ongoing and will create surprise when it is large enough to create visible shift to new state. So actually what we educators do is to keep accumulation, speed up the accumulation.]

His presentation is also inspiring:

ESD must:

  • be experiential, inquiry-based, place based, and action-oriented
  • teach students to think in systems terms
  • explain inter-relationships between ecosystems and social systems (including the economy, culture etc)
  • inspire concern for fellow humans and for the biosphere (which makes all life possible)
  • strengthen capacity to think and act for the future and not only for the present

These should be should familiar to System Dynamics/Systems Thinking educators.

Technologies for sustainability leadership

  • facilitation (leader as facilitator)
  • collaborative decision making
  • vision-based strategic action thinking and planning
  • scenario planning (including computer modeling of future scenarios)

I like the idea leader as facilitator, while facilitation for envisioning, scenario planning and collaborative decision making are basic elements of group modelling building.

Many countries vow to reform their education. They said education is very important to advancement of their countries. I am not doubting it, but rather what kind of education is desired?

In the past, what we most concern is language (read, write), arithmetic (count), ethics (moral), history (unfortunately often used as nation building, not genuine understanding of the construction of history discourses) and basic sciences. These are still fundamental, especially for less developed countries, where literacy rate is still low and high gender inequality to receive education. The importance of education to these countries cannot be more overstated.

But for the more advanced countries, the focus is no longer quantity (literacy rate), but quality. What kind of education best prepare young generation for their future? Beyond the basic literacy, now there are many ‘adjectival’ educations – peace education, gender education, inclusive education, multicultural education, human rights education, HIV and AIDS education, global education, consumer education, holistic education, citizenship education, health education and development education (get to know them from this review paper). The essence of these education, in my opinion, can be grouped into three main themes plus their specialized knowledge:

  1. Ethics – care about other! Seeing connections and interdependencies is important part of its shaping.
  2. Critical thinking – improve quality of individual reasoning ability, how to evaluate the arguments. Learning to better understand complexity is part of it.
  3. Learning in participatory decision-making processes – envisioning shared future, group model building to create a shared understanding of problem and potential solutions and reach consensus on policy change, debate.

The success of education reform requires commitment of teachers, government (provide the resources, not just lip service), support of the parents and society. All these stakeholders need to participate in creating shared vision, understanding the problem and how to reform. Otherwise no commitment in implementation and nothing will change.

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