April 18 is the 56th monthly meeting for Systems Thinking Ontario. The registration is on Eventbrite.

Relational Biology, Relational Science

What is life, and living?  This session will emphasize a discussion-oriented style, to give participants the opportunity to puzzle through the intricacies of relational science, which is a systems sciences foundation to much of today's research into ecological systems (e.g. panarchy, supply-side sustainability).

The session will be led by David Mallery, who has been applying these foundations in his graduate students in social metabolism at York University. After David has given a brief introduction, a commenter (TBD) will begin a cycle of collective sensemaking with the group working through cycles of interpreting, questioning and clarifying.

Relational biology was coined in the 1950s by Nicolas Rashevsky, in his research pursuing the question of "what is life?", whether biological phenomena could be reduced into pure physics.

This research was amplified by Robert Rosen, and published in books such as Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, Mathematical and Methodological Foundations (1985/2012) and Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life (1991).

In recent years, Rosen's theories have continued to develop through the work of John J. Kineman, as R-theory.  In May 2016, Systems Thinking Ontario was fortunate to have Judith Rosen come from Rochester, NY, to join in the discussion.  (We should sharpen our knowledge set, for a return visit on a future date!)

This discussion of the history of ideas towards relational science and R-theory will orient Systems Thinking Ontario enthusiasts towards questions where a large body of deep thinking has evolved slowly.


Suggested pre-reading: 

A gentler introduction to the thinking of Robert Rosen has been written by one of his students, who continues to push the work forward.

Closer to the leading edge of knowledge is a more challenging work published by a recent president of the ISSS.


Time Activity Role(s)
6:30 Self-introductions (15 seconds each)
  • Introduce yourself and briefly tell us about interests, experiences or affiliations related to systems thinking.
  • How did learn about this Systems Thinking Ontario session?
Convenor:  Peter Jones
6:45 The pre-reading (as an entry point)
  • What did the original author say?
Reviewer: David Mallery
7:05 Commentary
  • What have others said since the article was published?
  • How does this article fit in with my thinking on the theme of systems thinking and futures?
Commenter #1: Peter Jones
Commenter #2: TBD
7:20 Discussion breakouts
  • Break out in groups of 6 to 10 people, to improve active communications
  • Identify a reporter who will summarize the group findings
Parallel breakout groups of 3 to 5 people
7:50 Reports on discussion One designated reporter for each group
8:10 Process reflection
  • What went well in this meeting?
  • What should be discuss in the next meeting?
Suggestions welcomed
8:15 Adjourn
  • Optionally, join other attendees to continue discussion over dinner and/or drinks at a nearby restaurant
  • We prefer a venue that is quiet, reasonably priced and spacious enough for our continued conversations.
  • Typically, when we meet at 100 McCaul, we walk up to Baldwin Street; when we meet at 205 Richmond, we walk up to Queen Street West.
No host

Post-meeting artifacts

Bloggers are encouraged to write about their learning and experiences at the meeting. Links will be added to this page.