May 11, 2016
The human being’s capacity for pattern recognition is extraordinary. Through observation of the patterns found in nature, we have come to understand much about our place in the universe and its interworking. Yet our systems of education and learning are largely organized into separated disciplines taught in states of isolation. We have lost much of our sense for what it is that connects and integrates these various fields of human interest — the universal patterns and the forces that shape them.
A powerful insight into these fundamental forces comes from cymatics — the study of the effect of sound on matter. “Sound” in this sense meaning vibrational frequencies, some of which are audible to the human ear and some of which are not.
“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” — Nikola Tesla
A common and easily repeatable cymatic experiment is done by sprinkling sand onto a metal plate, which is then vibrated at distinct frequencies. With the vibration the sand self-organizes into intricate patterns, changing in fluid motion with the applied frequency.
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More recently a device called a cymascope has been developed that does the same with water droplets, recording the beautiful and dynamic imagery.
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What’s perhaps even more interesting is that the patterns found in these experiments are also found throughout the natural universe — from the geometric structures formed by the relationships between stars to those between molecular elements and atomic particles. They are found in coastlines and mountain ranges, plants, animals, and the human body. It shows us how energy flows and is organized in the universe.
Educated in the public school system in the United States, I don’t recall being introduced to anything resembling this fascinating subject at any point in the (estimated) 14,580 hours I spent in the classroom.
The truth is, I feel cheated.
This should be a fundamental part of our education. Not only is it key to understanding ourselves and our dynamic relationships within the nested systems of which are an inseparable part, but it provides pathways to practical action. Many (if not all) of our problems relate to the fact that we have created systems that do not fit with natural patterns and energy flows. Rather they work against them, creating waste and degradation.
We must learn how to discover these patterns and then transform systems to harness their innate ability to create beauty and abundance.
A good place to start is by developing our capacity for systems thinking. A system is a group of elements that form interdependent relationships that produce a collective function. That could be anything from an atom (protons, electrons, neutrons) to a chair (wood, screws, glue, fabric) to a forest (plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, nutrients, etc.) to an entire planet, solar system, galaxy, and beyond.
Each system is both made up of of smaller systems as well as being an integral part of larger systems. Take a human being for example. We are made up of atoms which make up molecules which make up bacteria, nutrients, blood, water, skin, bones, organs, etc. Each of these is a system in itself as well as a subsystem of the human body, which is also a system in itself. The human body is then part of familial, organizational, communal, societal, ecological, bioregional, and planetary systems.
Ok, lots of systems. There are a couple of important points: none exist in isolation (they all trade elements and interact with bordering systems) and they are all patterns. They have geometric structures that shift and transform with interactions and adaptations. These geometries, as we know from cymatics, self-organize — guided by vibrational frequencies.
We also know that each atomic element found in the universe vibrates at a specific frequency. When these atoms organize into systems, the frequencies combine to form what is known as a resonant frequency. Everything — and everyone — has one. Through resonant frequency each component is participating in the self-organization of the systems to which it is connected (which is all systems). The ripple effect is universal.
Getting back to practical applications. The second focal point for education futures is in design thinking. Through observation of patterns/systems, we can begin to identify where we want to take action to manipulate existing structures for a desired outcome. As patterns/systems are based on relationships, so too are the interventions that we choose to make.
For example, let’s say that an opportunity has been identified in a local community where there is a degraded riparian ecosystem. A group of students will design and develop a project to regenerate the system. To do so they must first survey and analyze the problem — what has caused it? What is its current state? What is the pattern that is trying to naturally emerge and what is preventing it from doing so? This might include talking to local people, researching riparian ecology, local plants and wildlife etc.
They will then design an intervention to transform the pattern. This would include identifying, finding and allocating resources, cultivating stakeholders, forming organizational processes and assigning tasks, and developing a plan for implementation and continued maintenance. Finally they would implement their plan.
Clearly such a project would amount to a very rich learning experience, integrating many relevant real-world skills. It would also be a useful and rewarding venture both for the student and the community.
Perhaps more importantly, this type of education focuses on building and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships — amongst learners, between learners and members of local communities, between learners and the places they live, etc. Systems thinking promotes the awareness of these relationships, while design thinking promotes the intentional development of mutual benefit.
A shift toward this type of project-based learning, supported by integrative instruction in pattern recognition, systems and design, may be essential for our adaptation and survival as a species. With current trends towards increased standardization and debt-producing learning pathways, it is a challenge that will require bold action and community-level support.
Institutions like Gaia University are leading the way in higher education. What are some other initiatives pushing for a more systems- and design-based approach to learning that you’ve come across? Share in the comments below.