In Filters Against Folly, Garrett Hardin identifies three modes of thought. Literacy, numeracy and ecology—thinking in words, thinking in numbers and thinking in systems. I’d like to focus on the last, ecological thought. More specifically, I’ve been wondering, “What does it actually mean to think in systems?” I would class it as a constant consideration of the higher order effects that occur at a variety of scales over time. Yet that seems too wordy, too obtuse, to abstract. So I’ll try to simplify. First up, consider the scale of Space:
Multiverse > Universe > Galaxy > Solar System > Planet > Continent > Sub-Continent > Country > Region > Town, City, Village > Street > Building > Room > Thing > Atom > Sub-Atomic Particles
That is the scale of Space. Let us add the scale of Time:
Beginning of Time > Past > Present > Future > The End of Time
Combining the two scales gives us a 2×2:
Now, a heuristic: the better an ecological thinker is, the more completely their thoughts cover the ranges of Time and Space. Visualised: a poor ecological thinker in red, an omnipotent, all-encompassing thinker in green:
Fortunately, it is possible to extend out in all directions from the centre. As human beings we can learn to think in a greater range of Time and Space. Perhaps not to the extent of the full green field—only deities are capable of such a feat—but we can at least learn to think someway beyond the tiny portion of time and space we currently occupy. And that is what it means to think ecologically.