Participating in the knowledge society

Bell, Simon (2015). Participating in the knowledge society. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 28(3) pp. 289–296.



This paper will wander a little but I hope retain order to the core theme—“Participating in the Knowledge Society”.

I wanted to start with an image (Fig. 1) which might arrest your attention, a wire weave sculpture by the artist Linda Johns ( The sculpture is two-thirds life sized and made of copper wire. I like it—I liked it so much—I bought it. I like it because I know human life is precious and this sculpture helps me to think about the ephemerality of people. What Gilbert Ryle labelled and Arthur Koestler immortalised as “Ghosts in the Machine” (Koestler 1967).

Ryle was responding to Descarte but Koestler was pondering on human self destruction. Ryle takes me to Koestler and Koestler to more recent and more optimistic views of human society.

The theme of my paper is—to mis-quote Stephen Pinker quoting Charles Dickens—about ‘Our Better Angels’ (Pinker 2011)—in a round about kind of way. Ghosts and Angels—inspired by this sculpture. What I am trying to address is the complexity of human nature and, linked to this, the tendency of many systemisists to simplify this nature in order to make a more complex whole more addressable. This can be the cause of problems.

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