If indeed there are hundred of thousands of groups globally experimenting with new agreements based on new principles, as I suggest in this blog, then it is time for a naming exercise: a naming of what is emerging, so that it can be seen more clearly, so that the new, emerging rules can be described, and humanity can learn from their successes and failures.

The act of “naming” has had a deep impact on how humanity sees the world many times in the past century alone.  By naming an emerging field, people who were discovering something new found out that they were uncovering different aspects of a similar phenomenon.  Until the new field was created, through its naming, these people were unaware of each other’s discoveries.  They often came from different fields, asking different questions with different tools, thus comparison was difficult to impossible.  When the field was named, in a seemingly brief time, people were able to see that they were discovering different aspects of the same thing.  Once many people realized a commonality, they began to work towards the same ends – a new field emerged.  I will use two examples from the 20th century to show this: quantum mechanics and systems thinking.

At the turn of the century, the field of quantum theory was named.  In 1899 Max Planck introduced the “quantum,” which is Latin for a “discrete amount,” a discrete quantity of energy proportional in magnitude to the frequency of the radiation it represents.  Planck’s insight opened the door through which hundreds of physicists stepped, including such luminaries as Einstein, Rutherford, Geiger, Bohr, Heisenberg, and Schrodinger.  During this period, various branches of classical Newtonian physics were trying to explain observed phenomenon that could not be explained by the axioms of their fields.  When quantum was named, these observers realized that they had been discovering different principles of a new set of axioms, rules that did not fit with classical physics, rather they described a completely different world.  In this new world, basic laws of gravity and direct cause-effect, which seem true in a Newtonian world, no longer apply.  In a quantum world things can be non-local – effect each other instantly, even when very far apart – and probabilistic – in different places at the same time.  It was the naming of what was already being discovered more broadly that allowed the field to become visible.  All of a sudden, lessons learned in seemingly disparate fields could be clearly seen to highlight different dimensions of the same phenomenon.  The field of quantum theory was born, from the naming.[1]

In the 1950s the field of systems theory was named, uniting systems thinkers in completely disconnected fields, such as physics, computer science, biology, and engineering as well as geography, sociology, political science, psychotherapy, and economics.[2]  In a very short period, experts deeply siloed from each other by their professional language, practice, methods, and standards were able to create a richer, more textured, shared understanding of a field they had all started to explore separately.  For example, now therapists developing family systems approaches could share their systems insights with biologists studying ecologies.  They showed that laws of linear causality and aggregation – where the means lead directly to the ends, and the whole is the sum of the parts – were a special case of feedback systems and synergies – where today’s decisions affect tomorrow’s capacity to make the same decisions, and the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

As with the examples of quantum and systems theories, it appears that thousands of observers, across many fields of study, are noticing a new phenomenon emerging in hundreds of thousands of groups across the globe.  These include psychologists looking at happiness and sociologists looking at complementary monetary systems to economists addressing poverty and foundations dealing with network philanthropy.  They suggest the phenomenon cannot be described solely by the economic laws of scarcity and self-interest.  Ecosynomics provides a model of health to begin to name the field these observers and practitioners are discovering.

By contributing to the naming of this emerging field, I see that the global discourse on scarcity can be shifted.  Professor Brian Greene reminds us of the impact of paradigm-shifting discoveries.  “You could spend a lifetime – in antiquity, some did – wondering what happens when you reach earth’s edge, or trying to figure out who or what lives on earth’s underbelly.  But when you learn that the earth is round, you see that the previous mysteries are not solved; instead, they’re rendered irrelevant.”[3]

Naming this emerging phenomenon ecosynomics highlights agreements as the basis for human interactions, and that people can change their interactions by seeing that they are just agreements.

[1] Baggott captures some of the early stories when quantum was named (Baggott, 2011).  The physicist Stephen Hawking, who was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a post previously held by Sir Isaac Newton, has gathered 33 of what he calls “the most astounding papers on quantum physics and how they shook the world” in his book The Dreams That Stuff Is Made of (Hawking, 2011).

[2] Decades later, some of the “namers” of systems thinking that stand out most for me from the 1950’s include the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, computer scientist Jay Forrester, and operations researcher Russell Ackoff (Bertalanffy, 1950; Churchman & Ackoff, 1950; Forrester, 1990; Wiener, 1954).

[3] This is from Greene’s national bestseller The Fabric of the Cosmos (Greene, 2004, p. 39).

6 thoughts on “Naming

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