3 questions for Buzz Holling

From Louise Hård af Segerstad of Alabeco in Sustainable Development Update (2/2008), Three questions and three answers from Buzz Holling:

How would you explain resilience to a ten-year-old?
If I was a ten year old I would understand resilience more than if I was a 50 year old.

The essence of resilience has to do with the ebullient surprises that occur or you encounter. And what are surprises? That are the things that are not explained by the theory that you contain at the moment or the paradigm, they are the unexpected events that nature show you, that you’re learning.

A learning human can classically be imagined as a ten year old because his world has matured to a certain point and much is unknown. Resilience is more of a metaphor for a 10-year old than a 50 year old. Less and less of a 50year old’s world is one of surprise particularly compared to a ten year old. Resilience is for the ever youthful!

Have you seen any difference between cultures and how they relate to the concept of resilience?

The view of a theory is limited by languages. The Latin languages are better to capture resilience than the German languages.

I’ve talked to people with moral Muslim background and they seem to have a more intuitive feeling for the unexpected and the unknown and the richness of that, not just the fear. There is also a culture of religion that has a growing power in many countries today. The fundamentalist religion deals with the unknown in a dominant way; they convert it to the known, in their minds. That kind of fundamentalist religion is almost the opposite of the inherent features of any of the concepts engaging resilience. Those concepts see the uncertain as an inherent part of life, and the uncontrollability being the engine for new discoveries. So, yes you get different attitudes about resilience from different cultures and you get different attitudes about knowledge and understanding, of which resilience is one part.

What do you see are the main obstacles to achieving sustainable development?

Everyone’s training and everyone’s experience is on a small parts of the full domain. And there is a strong tendency for people not to recognize that reality and preclude people who are in another domain from doing what they are doing. I find that offensive – to assume the knowledge generated in your paradigm is so complete as to preclude some imaginative alternative. That paradigm exclusivity, that can’t be afforded today.

What is happening globally today is so profoundly new to even pretend that an existing theory can completely grasp, or explain that.

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