Second thoughts about complexity theory and system theory for osteopaths in practice…

Ricerca e scienza

di Maximilien Girardin

Let us saddle up and ride against the winds once more

In order, not to give wrong impressions leading to unintended conclusions, ‘this author’ is going to be as reflective as possible on something that happened to him in a split second a few days ago: “the environmental trigger on which my system reacted in a cascade was this picture on the Facebook groupComplexity Explorers (by SFI)” (SFI stands for the Santa Fe Institute)

‘Me or my and I ’ is talking in the process, ‘this author’ is talking while stepping back and overlooking the whole process as an external observator for as far as possible.

The trigger was strong enough and opened a thoughts train that in consequence led to an irresistible urge to write it off somehow before it faded away by the every day business. (In my mind, all that I have tried to put on this paper, happened in about a split second)

As soon as I had copied my own Facebook comment and the picture, in order to keep it as, a spark from the flashed-instant-process, to go back too. Then consequently opened a document to start to write, and a stream of consciousness got hold of ‘me’; and this paper is the result of it.

So my sincere apologies if it is hitting you like a bit chaotic and overwhelming… But it is truthful and gives a peek for the diligent reader behind the backstage or curtains of my mind.

The experience was so overwhelmingly strong that after it had happened in a second flash in ‘my mind’; ‘this author thought’: “well that was intense, what just happened to me?”

Now let us take a step back and look at a distance to the whole process and in the same moment try to describe the chain of thoughts in the process equally.

The initial trigger was this picture: (take a moment to let the image work upon you)

Possibly the trigger was that strong on my system for several reasons, let ‘this author’ try to analyse them:

Close up:

For the system lion

·     it is clearly an African male lion in the wild

·     in the force of his age

·     he has a black shoulder collar manes indicates he is a Kalahari Lion

·     he is jumping a water point with a little rock in it

·     his body expression, attitude, tail posture and fixed gaze clearly defines hunting mode, going in for the kill

·     his fitness demonstrates he is a good hunter, well fed

·     the jump with his though manes being blown backwards indicates the speed and thus perseverance: this is for real,  not mocking or playing

·     the tail tensed and lifted up is also a strong indicator this is for real, not a mock charge

·     his ears are wide open and turned in the same direction as the fixed gaze, the prey has his full dedication

·     and finally the jump is with both front paws symmetrically ahead and the back paws pushing symmetrically in unison meaning he is delivering all his explosive power at once

·     This guy is meaning business not playing, and the picture captured it perfectly.

For the environment:

·     ‘I ‘ recognize immediately one of the typical small waterholes in the river bed of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park (because ‘I’ just spent three weeks camping there last Novembre)

·     The colour of the sand is unique to the dried river beds in the Southern Kalahari, the dunes are ochre red but the river beds have exactly that pale colour and when it gets wet, like on the edge of the waterhole, it gets that typical brown rusty colour

·     The pale sand of the river bed is mixed with small dark pebbles, and dead branches or pieces of wood dragged along during the last rainy season as on the right of the picture

·     The white spots are little rocks from the crumbling rock next to the pool or hyena droppings, which are common around the waterholes

·     The grouped dark patches of what look like little dark pebbles on the left are springbok or impala droppings, evenly common there

All of these triggered ‘my’ memory because I lived and camped for three weeks in that environment by temperatures of 43° C thus it was an intense experience but there is probably more…

‘This author’s’ mind automatically switches on full speed based upon all these little facts seen in a split second, and continues the story outside the frame of the picture…

Probably because, despite not having seen this guy at that instant specifically, all the knowledge, previous experiences and memories of having seen that type of scenes manifold kicks in and weaves the rest of the picture like zooming outside of the frame… (the description is in the Facebook comment below)

In my experience this picture becomes a living picture. I sense this lion and know him…(left and right brain working in synergy: knowledge and experience and senses all working in unison.

‘My’ South African friend & philosophical- and bush-brother dr.Leslie Pleass from Johannesburg, who was also with us in Novembre in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park, usually introduces ‘this author’, when we meet strangers as: “ don’t mind Max, I love him as a brother but this boykie is “bosgefok” “ (Which is Afrikaans and means something like: “this little guy’s mind is fucked up by the bush”, he is a bit strange like a bush hermit or something similar) This intermezzo just to get the original Facebook comment on the SFI page that follows:

Facebook comment in the heath of the moment on the SFI page:

I guess that you guy’s are more into the theoretic modelling, which is much less my cup of tea, but as an African bushgefok (fucked up by the bush in Afrikaans) I can tell some stuff about the picture, just looking at system and environment maybe that triggers someone:

by the look of the manes this is a adult male Kalahari lion, the picture is most probably taken in the big Kgalagadi Transfrontier park in one of the river beds watering points which are distributed every 20 km’s. Fit as he looks he has a small pack or is in motion to start one up, he is well fed so he is a good hunter and defender of his territory around the waterhole

As there are no elephants there (they don’t come in that area of the world), he is really the King of the moment (no challengers); these boys tend to lie in ambush near the water points or in this case probably behind the little rock. They are nearly invisible in most cases. His fixed targeted gaze and the straightened tail demonstrates this not a jump for fun but he ‘is in hunting mode probably for a Gemsbok or Springbok (very common antelopes there in the riverbeds) It is almost certainly not for Hartebeest which is also very common there but as it is the fastest antelope in Southern Africa, he would not even try it. The killing zone for a lion like that is about 25 meters, above that he has to sneak in closer by himself. Even in the 25 meter range the Hartebeest is to fast for him so it must be Gemsbok or springbok quite definitely. In difficult times (dry season) you see packs working together sometimes… system and environment interaction. Sincerely yours

Thus looking from a distance the analysis of the picture and the following clumsy try to sum up the facts, does in no way honour the oneness, speed, senses included in the experience.

The experience is complex and total, the analysis is not.

It made ‘my mind’ linger on something several old osteopaths talk about, the knowing in a flash and not being really able to express or describe that knowing.

Furthermore when they tried like W.G. Sutherland for instance: what they expressed was a scanty, reduced and almost shaky representations of the experience.

Which is not productive in the good sense of the word, when ‘this author’ looks at all the deviant and metamorphic exactions made by Sutherland groupies and self-made clones that sprouted out of his ‘with all respect’ clumsy try to describe his ‘knowing and understanding’ experiences.

The reality of Complexity is wholeness like nature and all its processes. The classic description of Holism is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

So why do we make use of man-made contraptions like complexity theory and systems theory in our MORPHOLOGICUM courses?

Because the entire educational models impacted previously before we even meet any student or participant, and these educational models are based on linearity, analysis and modelisation, science so to speak. This tendency is so strong and intense that even graduated osteopaths, who think that they have a holistic look, are so immerged in science models, virtualities and hypotheses that for a big part, education with its inherent virtuality has pushed the reality of the whole, sometimes very far away. But not out of reach….

So we use in a first step complexity theory and systems theory (as a pacing method) to try to make them see that virtuality and the reality of nature are really very different… But this way of working certainly has its pro’s and con’s…

The con’s:

This insight to be candid, was in application for me since a long time but on a unconscious level, I came to complexity and systems theory by the ways of trying to teach the nature of the real thing being it by evolutionary physiology, dissection anatomy or Evolutionary medicine in the osteopathic field (a philosophical course) or by taking people in the African bush or deserts (change their environment so that they can see; away from the habits where they mostly gaze instead of seeing); despite that my origins lies on several levels in the experience of nature in all its wholeness, ‘I’ felt ‘I’ was shortcoming in my teachings. (Actually very confronting and frustrating)

It was Walter Mc Kone that drew my attention to it and consequently made me aware again of the fact that even- or just because of- using complexity theory some students don’t really get it further than adding up the parts and thus that is just what they ‘ve done and get: the sum of the parts. (Getting further away from holism)

The danger is thus in the solution, not in itself, but in the complacency of getting comfy in the next level which is still a construct – complex yes- but still a virtuality – a model.

So the next step was to find a way to integrate complexity and then let it go… it is uncomfortable, but nature and reality is really chaotic, unpredictable and complex, not linear and ordered. (As our education and left brain would like it to be)

Living picture to connect with the senses: it is like learning to ride a bike, once the whole is integrated, it becomes a ‘silky-smooth integrated process’ without even thinking about it (let go of the separate parts)

But what happens when you ride your bike in reality is unpredictable…AND STAYS THAT WAY

That is in my opinion the biggest inherent danger of using system theory and complexity theory; one can use them as a way of overcoming the over-analysing and splitup-modelling but that is not the final goal.

Letting it go, and surrender to the reality or wholeness of the moment is the next step and actually final goal.

Awareness and openness, with knowledge as rearguard, and adjust to how the whole processes is. Passing from understanding and doing to simply BE. (because we are as environment a part of the process when we see a patient)

This author loves many of the publications about complexity theory and mostly those about Complex Adaptive Systems mainly coming from the Santa Fe Institute, but when the authors make the maths fit, or modellize into complete virtuality (like complexity landscapes, or different types of attractors for instance) ‘I’ pass, because we are going once more against the fundament of reality : the complexity in nature: it is reinforcing fulltime virtuality once more and even more than before; and consequently a loss of contact with reality…’I’ think


The pro’s:

Evolution- complexity or A.T. Still’s beloved Form (as structure and behaviour as one indivisible whole), are powerful ways to come to that point of realization and great tools to let go of the models…while being aware that all are processes of the mechanism at work constantly, in every observable dimension.

While staying aware that the theories are also a way of bringing living pictures to you, but if you are not aware, your brain can turn them into dogmatic models as silly and full of nonsense as the ones previously but more difficult to unveil now.

It is impossible to bring it correctly under in words but something that might maybe help is this image:

  • The list of what my mind saw when trying to describe the picture of the lion


  • The picture of the lion and what it does to you and your senses (if you realize what it is)


  • The lion in real life in the Kalahari and you on foot observing it

And no, watching Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel or BBC with David Attenborough is not the real thing…. not even close.

I know from more than 45 years of personal experience having spent time with them in the bush and deserts, that usually these guy’s shoot one or two years of footage, see what they have got in the box and then have a good scriptwriter to make up a nice emotional story on which they make the footage fit… sorry just killed another illusion.

Osteopathy in practice is not about making patients fit into models, but an intense process of interaction of nature’s mechanism at work with two partners bound into one moment.

And for the interested people some images of the environment of the lion in the picture:

This old guy is snoozing in the river bed at noon time in a bit of shade: notice the sand colour, pebbles and springbok droppings etc.

This author certainly has not succeeded in catching the experience, but hopes it has made a string vibrate somewhere in your Form…


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