What are the criticisms of DSRP?

Here we list the criticisms; you decide their validity

What are the criticisms of DSRP Theory?

There are criticisms of DSRP Theory. The more important question is, are there any valid criticisms? It is sometimes difficult to separate the wheat (i.e., substantive criticisms that are clearly stated and addressable) from the chaff (i.e., opinions (especially uninformed or uneducated ones), straw men, ad hominem attacks, and suggestive populist rhetoric). Remember what Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry said, “Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” Subjecting theories to, and addressing, public criticism is a core scientific principle that we take very seriously. But, in this post-truth, anti-science, climate we now find ourselves living in, it is sometimes challenging to cut through the morass. Nevertheless, we will try to list them all here and update as we discover more.

Where’s the evidence for DSRP?

Ironically, while this should be the first critique of DSRP, it never is. That said we include it here because one should ask the question. In fact, one should ask the question of all proposed models. To be clear and succinct: to our knowledge, there is more empirical evidence supporting DSRP Theory than any mainstream systems thinking framework or model by orders of magnitude.

We want to emphasize this point because it bares repeating. Criticisms of DSRP fall into the category of "things I don't like" or "things I think." But, DSRP Theory is claiming something fundamental about mind and nature, much like gravity. You may not like it that gravity causes vases to break when they fall or you may think things would be more fun without gravity. But, the real issue is whether or not, gravity, or DSRP exists. So, evidence matters, because it is an existential question, not an opinion poll. Yet, as you will see below, most of the criticism of DSRP falls into the "I have an opinion" camp.

We should be asking, where is the evidence. Not only for DSRP (its here), but also for all models and theories. It is curious that of the many models that 'exist' in systems thinking—i.e., System Dynamics (SD), Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), Critical Systems Thinking (CST), Cynefin, to name a few— none are supported by empirical research that confirms their existence. Indeed, most, if not all, have  anecdotal opinion papers, one-off case studies, or effectiveness studies (and that is being generous). In fact, to our knowledge DSRP has more empirical research and meta-analytical work than any of these frameworks. The question of all of these frameworks or theories (DSRP Theory included) should be: what evidence supports their existence?

Just a few examples of the kinds of existential and evidentiary questions one might ask:

  • What empirical research shows that stocks, flows, feedback loops and rates are universal to all systems? Or that they have any relevance in cognition for that matter?
  • What empirical research shows that the steps of SSM or CST are anything but a subjective framework? Where did they come from? Who does them? Are they a statistical phenomenon or just a set of steps someone outlined?
  • What empirical research shows the existence of systems archetypes that adhere to the quadrants of Cynefin?

This is not to say that these frameworks cannot be useful. Perhaps they are. Those that have undergone effectiveness studies would be more credible. But an effectiveness study is not an existence study. Just because an intervention is effective, doesn’t mean it is valid or exists. 

It should also be noted that this not uncommon in the social sciences. That theories or frameworks "get popular" without ever "getting proven." Notable frameworks such as: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Bloom's Taxonomy, Right/Left Brain, and Multiple Intelligences, are all extremely popular without evidence that supports their existence and in many cases in the face of evidence that counters their existence. For example, you might "like" Bloom's Taxonomy, but no empirical research has found that it exists. In other words, Bloom's Taxonomy is just Bloom's way of seeing the world.

DSRP Theory claims that certain phenomena exist universally, both in mind and nature. And, DSRP has more empirical evidence to support its existence than any systems framework we currently know of.  On top of that, DSRP competes with these other frameworks in terms of other metrics that may be deemed to matter. In [5], it is explained in the following way by Cabrera, Cabrera and Midgley (with substantive footnotes): 

“We certainly believe that the problems with the third wave (discussed above) are significant enough to warrant the emergence of a fourth wave, but it is unclear at this point whether the ‘first swellings’ we are currently seeing will culminate in a full wave, or whether they will be overtaken by some other movement that ends up becoming the thrust of a new set of ideas. Of course, such judgements of a fourth wave are properly made retrospectively, not prospectively: whether a set of ideas propels a new wave of innovations or merely represents a brief swelling of the water before subsiding depends on whether it galvanizes the collective imagination of a larger research community and addresses real problems that are recognized as important ​[56,100]​. Thus, we have been cautious over the past twenty years about declaring that a new wave is upon us. Up to this point in the narrative, we have emphasized that, if it is indeed upon us, it is likely in its infancy. Despite this abundance of caution, there is also reason to be optimistic. For example, since Cabrera’s first writings ​[17,18,25,31,101–103]​, we now have the benefit of over 20 years of hindsight on the possible start of a fourth wave (which is as long as the gap between the first and second waves, and twice as long as the gap between the second and third waves). During those years, we have seen considerable testing of Cabrera’s DSRP Theory, including: (1) a burgeoning amount of empirical evidence [EN1] (at least as much as has been offered in the previous waves ​[91]​) [EN2]; (2) substantial private sector funding to develop tools for systems thinking ​[104–106]​; (3) substantial public funding [EN3] for research ​[107]​; (4) a substantial peer review and publication history, sizeable citation histories, including several special issues dedicated to DSRP ​[26,108,109]​; (5) considerable public exposure and critique [EN4]; (6) public adoption [EN5]; (7) high attendance annual conferences ​[110]​; institutional recognition and support [EN6]; and (9) as yet, few competitor theories (at least, none that have been explicated and communicated to the same degree).”

We would be remiss not to also mention the heuristic value of any theory. Heuristic value is another way to test a theory that is separate from its validity and reliability. ‘Heuristic value’ refers to the amount of value any given model (or heuristic) has “helping to learn” or “guiding in discovery or investigation”. A proposed theory can have relatively low actual value (i.e., validity and reliability) but high heuristic value. This is because a proposed theory may be wrong at the same time that it causes a ‘generative dialogue’ that moves a field in a particular direction. Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory (GST), for example, with the benefit of time and retrospect can be said to have low actual value (very little about it became seminal in its validity and reliability to biology) but high heuristic value (it has paradigmatically shifted not only the field of biology but many other fields). Cabrera, Cabrera and Midgley [5] provide insight into the heuristic value of DSRP Theory in a table of future research questions, replicated below (chapters referenced are explorations into each):

  • “How can the universal structures of systems thinking be used to characterize the strengths and weaknesses of existing systems thinking frameworks (across the waves)? How can these structures be used to improve various methods and methodologies, such as those represented in Chapters 2-32 of this book?23 For example, how do the universal DSRP structures extend the first wave frameworks of systems engineering (see Chapter 3), network theory (See Chapter 7), and agent based modeling (See Chapter 9).
  • What are the best ways to visually map the structures of systems thinking? How can we make visual mapping, and the systemic visual and logical grammar that underlies it, more accessible to all people so that they can use it to understand and improve any system (see Chapters 36 and 37)?
  •  What can we learn in effectiveness studies of how the structures of systems thinking improve learning, education, executive education, problem solving, creativity, etc.? What are best practices in the teaching and learning of systems thinking skills, from novice to expert (see Chapters 17, 39, 44, 45, and 43)?
  • How can the universal structures of systems thinking be used as a vehicle for making ​structural predictions​ and aid innovation, invention, creativity, future scenario planning, and new knowledge discovery (see Chapters 7, 24 and 32)?
  • How can the universal structures of systems thinking be used to decrease one’s cognitive biases (see Chapters 7, 25, 33, 34, 43)?
  • How can the universal structures of systems thinking be used to increase one’s personal mastery, professionally and personally (see Chapters 45)?
  • What is the relationship between systems thinking and other forms of thinking, like cognition, metacognition, critical, scientific, analytical, creative, interdisciplinary, interpersonal, prosocial, structural, and visual thinking (see Chapters 36, 38, 43, 44, and 45)?
  • Are there existing molecular structures that have not yet been explicated? Are there molecular structures (jigs) that are globally generalizable (to all disciplines and types of knowledge)? Are there molecular structures (jigs) that are locally generalizable (within a single discipline) (see Chapters 45)?
  • How should we continue to pursue theory, basic, and applied research into universals? For example, how precisely do boundary distinctions form, both in mind and nature? And, how do they correlate? How precisely does hierarchy, permutation, and combination, belonging, and containment result from the configuration of part-whole structures, both in mind and nature? And how do they correlate? How precisely do causality and connectivity patterns result from the configuration of action-reaction structures, both in mind and nature? And how do they correlate? How precisely do emergent patterns of empathy, compassion, insight, physical, spatial, and anthropocentric forces, and bias, etc., result from the configuration of point-view structure, both in mind and nature? And how do they correlate? (see Chapter 33 and 35.)
  • How does an understanding of the structure-information make up of mental models drive new insights in the cognitive sciences (see Chapter 38)?
  • How can the universal structures of systems thinking be used to enhance interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary practice? In what ways do they provide a common language to attack Tower of Babel problems? Continued research into the universal structures of systems thinking across all domains and within specific domains (see Chapters 33 and 35)?
  • How can we develop better practices for helping disciplinary experts to transform their fields by using the universal structures of systems thinking to determine what 'Systems X' (e.g., systems evaluation, systems engineering, systems neuroscience, systems education, etc.) should mean to them (see Chapters 3, 4, 9, 40 and 41)?
  • What does systems thinking look like in the organizational domain, and for leadership and management practice?
  • How do systems thinking structures occur at local and global agent levels in individuals, dyads, groups, etc? How does culture form as an emergent property of mental models (see Chapters 4, 42, 43, and 44)?”

DSRP exhibits both heuristic value and an ever expanding empirical evidence base that other theories and frameworks have not yet matched.

    Dr. Midgley’s (since revised and evolved) Criticisms in EPP

    One of the most respected academics in the field of systems thinking offered some well framed criticism in his paper entitled, “The unification of systems thinking: Is there gold at the end of the rainbow?” [1], which was Midgley’s response to a paper by Cabrera, entitled, “Systems Thinking” [2]. Worth reading, if for no other reason than this is how you should do a proper criticism. Cabrera in turn responded to the response in a paper entitled, “Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives (DSRP): A Theory of Thinking and of Things” [3]. You can read the entire chain in the citations above. Suffice to say, since 2008, Dr. Midgley has come 180 degrees on his criticisms about DSRP and now not only supports Cabrera’s original positions as to its universality, but has written and spoken extensively on it. Most recently, editing, with Cabrera and Cabrera, the Handbook of Systems Thinking, where they collectively explain the universality of DSRP.

    Because Dr. Midgley is a well respected scholar in the field of systems thinking, his prior critique is often brought up as if it was current. It is not. There is a relatively large paper, comment, and presentation trail to the current day in which Dr. Midgley clarifies his current positions on DSRP. Most recently, Dr. Midgley gave a talk [4] (he has given many) where he credits DSRP in many ways and in his most recent publication [5] explains that it is currently the top candidate in the field for universality. 

    As you will see, there are legitimate criticisms that are specific, substantive and addressable that  Dr. Midgley offered in a manner appropriate to the scientific process, as he presented criticisms in a meaningful and addressable way. To be sure, some will find Dr. Midgley’s EPP paper and not realize there is later work that absolves those criticisms. However, Dr. Midgley’s recent and supportive talks or his recent papers on DSRP Theory renders the use of EPP critique moot. 

    DSRP isn’t new. I’ve been doing it for years.

    True enough. DSRP is not new. Indeed, Cabrera (2006) [6] explains that the origins of systems thinking predates the traditional systems thinking literature by 2,430 years by identifying  the first systems thinker as Lao Tsu 2500 years ago. For more on how DSRP is new (and also how it isn’t) read the FAQ: Is DSRP new? [7]

    Another derivative of this criticism is not a scholarly critique but a practitioner critique. The claim (and implied criticism) is made when one believes  that they already do one or more of the D, S, R, or P patterns of thinking—which of course is the point of DSRP Theory—as the patterns are hardwired into mind and nature. What is new about DSRP is the explication of how they all work in unison (not separately) and, importantly, the empirical effect of metacognitive awareness of the DSRP structures. In this regard, it is rarely the case that the person is ‘already doing it’ in a state of metacognitive awareness.  However this belief can be used to provide a rationale for not changing one’s behavior (usually in teaching, parenting, leadership, etc.)

    DSRP is binary.

    Nope. It is multivalent. This criticism is most likely born of the tendency for people to HOBBI (“Have an Opinion Before Being Informed”). Admittedly, on first glance, some of the patterns of DSRP (especially identity-other Distinctions) would appear binary. But they are not. If one reads how the rules are established, they: (1) “swap”, which means that every identity (i) is also an other (o) and vice versa. Thus each pattern consists of two elements that co-exist and  are more like yin-yang, and, (2) the four patterns combine, thus Perspective leads to massive multivalency. For more on this see the Chapter on the topic in Systems Thinking Made Simple [8]. Or this blog [9].

    Why 4? Why not 5? Or 12? Or 32? 

    Fair point. The explanation for this (which is a little technical) is handled on its own here.

    Dr. Derek Cabrera is a positivist, ergo DSRP is too.

    Most of the criticisms of DSRP usually arc toward ad hominem attacks on the quixotic on-the-spectrum polymath who discovered it, Dr. Derek Cabrera. When asked what ontological and epistemological position he would describe himself and his theories as, Cabrera states:

    “Ontologically, I am a material-realist-constructivist which simply means: 

    First, I am an unabashed materialist. I think that all things have a material basis, even feelings, thoughts, etc.

    Second, there is a reality that we bump up against like a blind man, but it can be known, even if it takes us a long time to know it and even if we are nowhere near knowing even a smidgen of it. I think that we know a lot about nature. But, I think that we know a very small amount of what can be known. I am fond of saying, “I don’t know” a lot. But I do think nature is knowable because it is patterned.

    Third, I’m a constructivist which means that I think that we perceive the world through a veil of our mental models (our mental constructions). This veil can be thin or thick depending on how metacognitive we are, such that we are aware of our own biases.

    That’s my basic ontology (i.e., the things I think that I consider a priori true about reality). My epistemology is how I think knowledge is formed. So, epistemologically I am a scientist which simply means that the basic processes of science are the ones that determine what is known. But there are some caveats to this. I don’t think science is something scientists do. I think, like Einstein did, that, “the whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” This means, in the reverse, that all people doing everyday thinking are scientists to one degree or another. I think that my mother—who was a quilter—had a set of knowledge every bit as complex and computationally equivalent to that of a world-renowned physicist.

    So, what is DSRP? Is it positivist? We asked Dr. Cabrera that too:

    DSRP is not positivist. DSRP is existential in both nature and mind. DSRP doesn’t have an ontology or an epistemology. DSRP just is. Just like gravity isn’t positivist. It just is. 

    To be fair, the 'positivist critique' does have valid roots but it is grossly misapplied as a knee-jerk reaction to DSRP's claims of universality. In [5], Cabrera, Cabrera and Midgley deal with the issue head on:

    There are, however, dangers in emphasizing universality, and it is important to recognize that there have been justified and legitimate concerns expressed in the literature: primarily, that future innovations in the diversity of approaches could be constrained by the ‘imposition’ of a universal framework to ‘govern’ the variety of systems thinking methodologies ​[29,33,34]​. What is more, deep suspicions have been expressed about any kind of claim to universality on the grounds that this hides the local and contextual features of what we are looking at ​[35–37]​ Also, if the search for universals becomes part of a dominant paradigm, this can empower its advocates to marginalize researchers with different ideas on the grounds that they are not conducting ‘proper’ (i.e., universal) research ​[38]​. These last two criticisms have not been specifically aimed at universality in systems thinking, but stem from concerns about a previous generation of mid-20th Century, neo-positivist universal theories that were presented as ‘grand narratives.’ The validity (or truth value) of these theories was seen as independent from their utility in the scientific and/or practitioner communities who might put them to use (i.e., the theories were presented a-contextually). Actually, theories of universals ​do i​nvolve truth claims, but from our perspective, universal theories also always have ​contexts,​ whether these involve practical use to achieve some social purpose, or deployment by an academic community to make a difference in a debate to yield scientific understanding. The context for introducing a universal systems theory at the present time, as we have seen, is the proliferation of systems approaches and the fragmentation of our research community. Once we acknowledge context, it brings a degree of humility to a proposal of universality. In our case, it also provides a rationale for protecting against the reduction of methodological diversity: if we are aware that both universals ​and diversity are necessary in the current context, then we need to make it explicit that a theory of universals is being introduced for use by practitioners to aid the exploration of the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses in their methodological ideas, but this does ​not ​require those ideas to be denuded of their own specialist concepts and methods, or be rephrased using the language of the universal theory. This is not about homogenizing the landscape of systems practice. It ​is ​about explaining the common underlying properties of diverse systems approaches to aid the communication of our ideas."

    Other ad hominem style criticisms of Dr. Cabrera

    We asked Dr. Cabrera about this type of criticism and he responded, 

    “I propose a thought experiment. Let’s assume, for a moment, that all of the ad hominem attacks on my character are quite possibly correct. The question is: do any of them have anything specific to say about DSRP Theory? The truth is, if they’re upset about what you’re saying, there’s a high probability that’s because it's true. I think it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ Another of my favorite quotes about ad hominems is from Socrates: ‘Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.’ I think that pretty much covers it when it comes to these kinds of attacks. It says more about the person saying them than it does about the target.”

    Thus, we won’t muddy the waters here with these style of personal attacks. 

    I just don’t like it. 

    It is sometimes difficult to separate the “Mikey doesn’t like spinach” variety attack from the personal ad hominem variety. They are often motivated from the same place. Criticisms like “AntlerBoy Taylor” who “filters out the Derek Cabrera stuff” because it is “well covered elsewhere” and with which he has “some disagreements” or that it is “not the most appropriate or illuminating approach to systems thinking.” These comments are (ironically) front matter on a systems thinking archiving page boasting over 200 members that he posts to, on average, 7 times a day with various links to content (some of which isn’t even in full sentences). Yet Mr. Taylor provides no justification for the ‘filter’ nor does he ever explicate, despite writing many blogs and social media posts, the disagreements he has with DSRP Theory. 

    AntlerBoy's “There isn’t much I filter out--probably only the Derek Cabrera stuff” because it “just doesn’t cut it” or “doesn’t meet the bar” or ”he doesn’t like it” or “disagrees with it” or “is not the most appropriate or illuminating approach to systems thinking” are surely criticisms but they fail to meet the bar of ‘substantive criticism’ or ‘valid criticism.’ This is primarily because one cannot address them, they are criticism for the sake of criticism. They criticize everything and nothing at the same time, the result being that they cannot be addressed. Of course, it is often the case that such criticisms are designed to be this way—indefensible. Such criticisms provide no rational or logical disagreement of import, and seem to be no more than an emotional and populist plea for supporters. 

    DSRP is populist poppycock.

    One of the stated pillars of Cabrera Research Lab is public understanding and one of our expertises (of Dr. Laura Cabrera) is translational research. It is also true that both Drs. Derek and Laura Cabrera have been influenced by their time at and love of Cornell University, which is a land grant institution that possesses  a deeply ethical mission to make science accessible and useful to the public that pays for it. For all of these reasons, it is common to label  ‘public pieces’ as ‘flashy’ or ‘well designed’ or ‘slick’ or ‘polished’ or whatever adjective you might allocate to them. In other words, these pieces don’t ‘look’ academic. However, all of CRL’s public pieces are grounded in scientific research, the bulk of which is provided, along with the Cabrera’s extensive bibliographies [10] and literature reviews [11], free of charge. It is true, for example, that Cabrera wrote and produced a rap song [12] about thinking and education as part of a grant project with the expressed objective of making systems thinking more accessible to young people. 

    It should also be noted (not as a criticism of other useful models, but merely as a factual statement) that the vast majority of ‘accepted’ systems thinking frameworks offer  little to no empirical research. A few of the frameworks have been subjected to extensive effectiveness studies, but few, if any to our knowledge, have been subjected to the kind of empirical and experimental research that supports DSRP. This is not to say that a framework without empirical or experimental support cannot be useful—it certainly can. But it is to say that many of the folks who make this particular criticism of ‘populism’ (a) don’t seem to be familiar with the publicly available research base of DSRP, and/or (b) don’t hold other approaches to nearly the same standard.

    DSRP is a Tautology

    Whether something is a tautology can readily be discovered using truth tables. When subjected to truth tables, DSRP is not a tautology. So this criticism, which has a similar flavor in the way it is used to Godel’s Incompleteness argument, is simply false. 

    General Objection to Universality

    Perhaps the most substantive criticism of DSRP Theory comes not directly for the theory itself, but generally as to the possibility of universality. This is a long standing philosophical debate between pure relativism and pure universality.  DSRP Theory is a scientific theory not a philosophical stance and it therefore does not advocate for, nor require, advocacy in either of these binary positions (i.e., universalism or relativism). Indeed, the very essential nature of DSRP is that it does not make this false dichotomy. There can be universality and relativism in the same system. In fact, we see instantiations across the sciences, where universal theories (theories which apply universally (i.e., are valid) across a diverse set of phenomena) are critically important. Such theories include: Relativity Theory, Newton’s Laws, Evolutionary Theory, Network Theory, the Periodic Table, Mendel's Laws of Heredity, etc. Evolutionary Theory provides perhaps the most germane example. When the great geneticist and evolutionary biologist, Dobzhansky, once remarked ​[13]​, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” he didn’t mean that the ​universality​ of evolutionary theory cancelled​ all of the ​diversity​ that existed in biology. He meant that all of that diversity began to make sense together, ​as a​ ​system.​ Thus, a plurality or diversity of methods in the systems thinking field can coexist with a unifying set of principles that is foundational to all of them.

    We suggest a reading of Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L. and Midgley, G. (2021) The Four Waves of Systems Thinking. In, Routledge Handbook of Systems Thinking, (Eds) Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L. and Midgley, G. Routledge. London, UK., [5] especially the section entitled, “The Universality: What is the Pattern that Connects in Systems Thinking?” for those who reject the universality of DSRP Theory because they generally reject the possibility of Universality itself. Likewise, for those who tend to build a ‘straw man’ of universality that is strict, finite, pure, and positivist without regard for the obvious relativism that exists in nature.

    Suffice to say, where systems thinking is concerned, as well as many of the most productive and advanced sciences today, an abject rejection or straw man construction of universality, simply isn’t reasonable. In order to take such a stance, one would have to disregard virtually the whole of modern science.

    In addition, the claim of anti-universality seems to present a dilemma in terms of its internal consistency. Because the claim most often made is that because there are no moral absolutes (universals) then there cannot be universality, which is, in and of itself, a moral absolute [14]

    One final note on universality. Universality, when applied to theories can be domain specific or general. General universality is what might be called “truly universal” or a “theory of everything” because the claim is that it applies to everything. Domain specific universality means that it applies to a particular “universe” but perhaps not to other universes (domains). Evolution, for example, applies to the domain of biology. Some would argue it applies much more generously to fields beyond biology (and they may be right), but that was not Darwin’s original argument. Arguably, the “law of supply and demand” applies generally to economic systems, but it perhaps doesn’t apply universally to all systems. It is true that DSRP is making some substantive claims, and therefore should respond to substantive criticisms when they are levied. DSRP is making the claim of universality of three things, (1) systems thinking as a subset of (2) general cognition and the (3) material world. It may be that DSRP falls short of one or all of those claims, but if it does, it will not be because of someone’s opinion but because of evidence to the contrary. Like Darwin did with evolutionary theory, DSRP is a consistency argument, not an entailment argument. In order to disprove DSRP’s various claims, one must only find a single instantiation where DSRP does not apply. That seems like a fair deal. Darwin made the same bold bet. And he won.

    The Mother of All Criticisms, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem

    We say the ‘mother of all criticisms’ because for a number of reasons this criticism is designed to ‘win the argument’ by ‘shutting down’ discussion based on the prediction that few will dare to question something they don’t understand. The argument takes a number of forms, all of which are of the structure:

    1. X theorist claims Theory A is universal;
    2. Super smart and unimpeachable mathematician, Kurt Godel, said ‘all theories that say this cannot be true;’ 
    3. Therefore Theory A is not universal.

    There are numerous problems with this argument. First, Godel does not apply to ALL theories of type A, but only to very very specific ones. Second, #2 is not actually what Godel’s Theorems say. Third, even if Godel could be applied to Theory A, it may simply be saying that Theory A is 99.999% universal.

    In "Infinity and the Mind" by Rudy Rucker, (p. 173)[15]: "Reality is, on the deepest level, essentially infinite. No finitely programmed machine can ever exhaust the richness of the mental and physical world we inhabit." One could conclude that this rules out a “universal theory” because the universe is effectively infinite. But that would be an incorrect conclusion. Not because the universe is finite—it is likely not. But because it incorrectly assumes certain qualities of universal theories. A universal theory might be found that accounts for growth, evolution etc. Indeed, evolutionary theory in biology is a universal theory for a particular domain of phenomena. It “applies to everything in that domain” (e.g., all life). But Darwin is not wrong because he didn’t specifically predict a future Covid variant, he would be wrong if the variant formed by something that contradicts evolutionary theory. This is an example of universality being predicated on different principles than are present in Godel’s formal arithmetics.

    An alternative extrapolation of Godel’s Incompleteness makes the same error in distinguishing between types of universal theories. “In physical theories self referencing necessarily occurs when it is realized that the observer is also a participant in the experienced phenomena – we, humans, are part of the Universe while observing it. Therefore self-referencing, and consequently logical conflicts, are unavoidable, and any theory pretending to be Universal is bound to be incomplete.” [16] Here again, an assumption is made that “self-referencing, and consequently logical conflicts” is a logical conclusion. But if the universal theory takes into account the universality of self-referencing (e.g., as does DSRP with Perspective taking), then no logical conflicts consequently exist. 

    What does Godel actually say? 

    “Strictly speaking, his proof does not show that mathematics is incomplete. More precisely, it shows that individual formal axiomatic mathematical theories fail to prove the true numerical statement "This statement is unprovable." These theories therefore cannot be "theories of everything" for mathematics [17].” 

    It shows that [emphasis ours], “individual formal axiomatic mathematical theories fail to prove the true numerical statement “This statement is unprovable.” That, in science and math speak, is a lot of qualifiers. This means that Godel’s Theorems are making very specific statements about very specific things. Not globally generalizable to all things. He’s talking about arithmetic systems (systems of numbers and their operators). 

    There are several things about the use of Godel’s Theorems as a generalized criticism. 

    1. First, very few people actually understand Godel, so we should be very circumspect, especially when it is used as a coarse threshing device to destroy any new theories. This is a form of weaponization of Godel. But more so than that, it is a form of weaponization that people have used who themselves don’t understand Godel but nevertheless use his theorems because few can adequately respond to the blanket criticism.  
    2. Second, using Godel as a litmus may in fact be a contradictory Catch-22. If we are given Theory A (with certain universal claims) and the response to Theory A is that Godel says A cannot be complete and therefore is wrong, we are making two fallacies in one. First, Godel isn’t saying Theory A can’t be right, it's just saying there are true statements beyond Theory A that cannot be proven. Second, using Godel in this way means that it is being used as a Theory of Everything itself, which means, like Theory A, it too is incomplete, and we could use Godel to delegitimize Godel, thus a self-referential loop.
    3. Third, to use Godel (because of #1 above) is to bring the debate into a world of dialogue which few truly understand. It is nearly always the case that both the antagonist and the protagonist in the debate have little understanding of Godel and its meaning. The net effect is utter confusion which any audience will tire of relatively quickly. This of course benefits the antagonist because the audience simply “walks away.” In this sense, for the antagonist to use such a tactic is almost always a manipulative tactic designed to create smoke so people will think there is fire. Don’t believe it? Try to find even a single article about Godel Incompleteness Theorem, written in plain English, that can be deciphered in its pragmatic meaning by a lay audience. 
    4. Fourth, involves the domain of application reserved for Godel’s Theorems. It is unclear whether Godel applies beyond math and logic (discrete number systems) and even then it is unclear whether Godel applies to different forms of maths and logic. In other words, it is not clear, and is indeed doubtful that Godel applies to all forms of logic and maths. At the same time, one could argue that any formal system has a logic to it and therefore it does apply. The point is, it is altogether unclear. Taken literally (which one assumes is the only way to take Godel’s Theorems given their immaculate specificity), they apply to arithmetic systems (systems of numbers and their operators), and especially to first order logics. 
    5. Finally, Godel’s Theorems do not proclaim what many say they do--that there is no universality. They simply say that for any system A, there will be true statements that exist outside of that system. That does not mean System A is not universal in anything but the most absolute sense. 

    In other words, if we told you that a pill will get rid of 99.999% of your headache, would you not use the pill? Another way of saying it is that Godel’s Theorems are a form of logical-mathematical scalpel, yet people with an axe to grind against universality use it as a chainsaw to try to chop down everything in sight. It does a poor job and those who are doing it aren’t medically trained. Caveat emptor, when Godel is thrown around casually as an argument, it is much more likely to be a red herring than a legitimate criticism.


    [EN1] The research for the existence of DSRP in both mind and nature is extensive ​[91]​ (see Chapter 35 for a summary) and for most readers it is clear how D, S, R, and P are universal and existential to mind. Indeed, most readers have little difficulty thinking of real-world, material examples of D, S, and R in nature. Where they struggle is with P in nature, for which there are countless examples from group (statistical perspectives) to individual perspectives of various types of neural-organisms. But there are also countless and burgeoning examples of empirical research showing perspectives in non-neural life forms and nonliving compounds too ​[117–127]​. 

    [EN2] Many frameworks originating in the first three waves are methodological, so ​when​ they have included empirical findings these are measures of their ​effect​ during interventions (e.g., in case studies of practice). While there is also ​effectiveness​ research on DSRP, the vast amount of empirical work on DSRP is basic research on its ​existence​ in both mind and nature. In this sense, previous frameworks have rarely been subjected to empirical research on their existence as real-world phenomena. 

    [EN3] Over $8 million in total funding of DSRP from public agencies and $16 million in public and private combined. 

    [EN4] Aside from the exposure and critique in peer reviewed journals, DSRP is also widely debated on social media systems groups totaling ~50,000 people, received the 2017 AECT Book Award, and was the subject of an award-winning documentary film titled ‘Re:Thinking.’

    [EN5] As examples; Cabrera Research Lab YouTube channel has received ~500,000 views; their books have sold more than 30,000 copies, Cabrera’s TED Talk has reached over 220k and their short film 175k. 

    [EN6] DSRP and VMCL are both the focus of two graduate level courses at Cornell University. In addition, two certificates in systems thinking are offered. LinkedIn, after an extensive review of systems thinking, chose DSRP and VMCL for their course on the topic. Including venerable institutions such as Cornell and West Point, approximately 30 universities have adopted DSRP textbooks and thousands of k-12 teachers and schools have adopted DSRP as well as over 250 organizations. 


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