Creativity, Imagination & Systems Thinking

“The most interesting and important thing I learned from this class is “system thinking.” Through this way of thinking, I learned that everything, for example humans, nature and society, is connected. These days, human beings tend to ignore the surrounding nature and environment. We first should realize that we humans are a part of nature.” ~ Japanese University student

The following is a replica of the second of three units of an Integrated English course presented online via Moodle forums and Zoom meetings, for first year students at Kyushu University during the second semester of 2020, in Fukuoka, Japan. There is a lot of information here, which the students had about one month to research, discuss together and then write about individually. I am sharing this curriculum publicly, as many students felt this was the most interesting and important material that they studied during the semester.  ~Christopher Chase, 2021

Part One – The Challenge of Building a Unified Systems Science

In the 21st century, the human species faces both great crisis and opportunity. The problems of climate change and environmental destruction have been getting worse decade-by-decade. War and poverty still destroy millions of people’s lives. The corona virus is a much smaller crisis, but is unique in history. In 2020, all human beings have been challenged to think creatively and take action locally together to solve a global problem we all face. The crisis is providing us with a unique “educational” opportunity, I believe, to understand the importance of creativity, teamwork, human intelligence, systems science and systems thinkingSo these are the ideas that I will introduce here, as the final class topic.

First, let me introduce the main “systems” topics, then I will present several key ideas in detail. Systems science is an attempt by scientists and educators to connect all the fields of science together into one unified model. Systems theories are ideas about how nature works, general principles that apply to all sciences. Systems thinking (システムズシンキング) is when we understand how various systems in the universe are connected and work together as unified wholes. “システムシンキングでは、全体のシステムを構成する要素間のつながりと相互作用に注目し、その上で、全体の振る舞いに洞察を与える.” 

While systems science and theory have been known for decades it is not commonly taught yet in most schools. Here is a drawing I made in 2003, while teaching at Seinan and Kyushu University, to represent various complex systems in our universe. Usually in school you are taught about each of these systems separately. Also, scientists study each field separately, but in reality all the systems in Nature and the Universe are connected together and influence each other. Einstein understood this and encouraged all of us to use our imaginations to connect knowledge together. Systems science is focused on creating a unified model of all systems, so that human beings can understand how everything is interconnected and how various systems effect each other.

Part Two – Systems Thinking & Visual Intelligence (Imagination)

Below is another drawing I made. I drew this in 1993, while working as a research assistant, helping a junior high science teacher instruct her classes in California. The students were about 12 years old, studying plant and human biology and earth science. They were learning the names of all the parts of cells, biology systems, plants and ecosystems but there were no illustrations in their text books that showed how all these structures were connected together and serve as a transport system for solar energy from the sun. 

When I showed this picture to the class they were amazed. They did not realize how we are solar powered, or how all these systems they had studied are connected together. They had studied the names of the different parts and systems for tests, but didn’t have a full understanding of the interconnections. This is systems thinking, using our imaginations (visual intelligence) to understand how all systems in Nature and our Universe are connected and interact together as unified wholes.

Please watch this video of MIT professor Peter Senge. He explains why systems science and thinking is so important, especially in the 21st century. I highly recommend watching his videos and reading his books when you have time in the future.

I have been interested in systems science since I was your age and studied art in college. Many systems theorists and researchers around the world approach the topic with a focus on mathematics and computer modeling. If you like mathematics this can be interesting, but my focus is more on creativity and education, helping people understand complex natural systems with their imaginations (visual intelligence). 

Computers and mathematics are very helpful for systems research and modeling, but I believe imagination and creativity are most helpful for systems education and learning. If we want to help billions of people on our planet to become creative systems thinkers and effective problem solvers, I believe that Einstein was right, the human imagination is our greatest tool. When you have a unified understanding of systems relationships in your head its like having a personal GPS system that guides your decisions about what to do in situations.

I believe that visual intelligence is the primary knowledge representation system of most animals and insects and may be the primary system used for future A.I. that are built. All animals that have eyes or other spatial intelligences (like bat radar, dolphin sonar) are able to use their imagination to construct complex visual maps of their surrounding environments. These multi-dimensional maps then function like an intelligent GPS system that guides them. In truth, we are all a part of Nature, one community of life that has evolved on this planet together. By using your imagination effectively (and wisely) it becomes easier to think like Nature.

My own interest started with art, nature and creativity, not science. Below, is a drawing I did in 1986, while living in Amakusa, Japan (more artwork here). Since my childhood I have wanted to be an artist or illustrator. I was taught that creative talent is rare, that most people are not very creative. However, over time I began to believe that everyone has the potential to be an artist, and that most important for human society is to help people understand the power of our imagination for representing reality effectively and accurately. It’s not just a human power, it’s something many of Nature’s living creations share.

As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Part Three – What is Systems Theory?

Systems Theory is concerned with ideas that describe common characteristics of complex systems in Nature and the Universe. The idea of interdependence (相互依存) is the understanding that all systems are composed of many parts that are connected together. For example, there are many systems in your body (digestive, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, immune, etc.) that work together interdependently, as a unified whole. The same is true of a basketball team, an ecosystem, a computer, a business or rock band (like the Beatles). There are many kinds of Creative Systems in our Universe that are connected together, interdependently, and make new things.

Every system that you touch and see has a connection with both the past and present. Your body, for example, has an evolutionary heritage, that goes back billions of years, with the history of life on our planet. There is also a cultural history to all the buildings and technologies you use, the fashion you wear and language you speak. Everything has a unique history that stretches back through time.

You also are also connected to the history of the Universe. Most of the atoms in your body are billions of years old, many created in stars which existed before our solar system was born. Moreover, the energy that spins as those atoms has a history going back further to the Big Bang, when our Universe began. While your body is new and young, your atoms are ancient, very very very very very very very very very very very very very old.

Your relationships with systems go back through time to the past, and outward in the present, connecting you with the whole planet. The air you breathe, water you drink and the food you eat come to you from the trees, the clouds, rain and plants in our world. Life on our planet is a complex web of transactions, exchanges and relationships. 

This is the wisdom indigenous peoples have, and is why the ecological problems we face now are so dangerous. People who lived in Nature observed and connected directly with ecological systems every day, understanding that if one part of the world dies, everything may begin to die. As Severn Suzuki & Michael Jackson expressed, we need this kind of indigenous wisdom and ecological consciousness for all humanity, now.

When various parts of a system work together as a whole we call this principle synergy (相乗効果). So complexityinterdependence, creativity and synergy are all examples of natural systems principles. Another important system principle is the concept of self-organization. Your body, our solar system, a  galaxy, hurricane and forest are all self-organizing. 

Actually, most systems in Nature and the Universe are both self-organizing and self-constructing. Nature’s systems organize and build themselves. That makes these systems very different from tools and machines built by humans, which do not create themselves

The study of Nature’s mathematics is very old. The golden ratio and fibonacci sequence  (フィボナッチ数) are examples of organic mathematics. Human science, architecture and technology has focused more on math that helps us create buildings and machines, but does not explain the living structures that Nature has created and that regenerate (自然治癒力) themselves. 

New fields and ideas in science that study natural systems are biomimicry, chaos theory and the Gaia HypothesisBiomimicry looks at natural patterns, biological engineering and mathematics to help design human structures and technology. Chaos theory studies how self-organizing systems break down or transform. Finally, the Gaia Hypothesis (ガイア理論) views the entire Earth (Nature) as a self-organizing system which has maintained and evolved life on our planet for over a billion years. 

A number of science fiction movies (such as Avatar風の谷のナウシカNeon Genesis Evangelionand もののけ姫) have explored related themes, that Nature is a highly intelligent being, and that humans need to evolve our intelligence to live in balance and harmony with the wisdom of the Earth.

Part Four – The Incredible Butterfly Effect!!

Probably the most well known systems theory is The Butterfly Effect (バタフライ効果), an idea from chaos theory. Because everything in Nature is connected interdependently a small action in one place can have a huge impact on other systems around it and on the future. A similar idea exists in traditional Japanese culture – that any event can bring about a big effect in an unexpected way(かぜがふけばおけやがもうかる).

An example would be how the corona virus can kill someone and has affected human civilization (maybe soon crashing our economy). Or how the video of George Floyd went “viral” and started demonstrations against racism all over the world. When the actions or ideas of one person (like Buddha, Einstein, Hitler) changes the world a butterfly effect has been set in motion

Butterfly effects are not just BIG events, they happen at all levels, all the time. In the 1920’s, my grandparents met because my grandma Alice was walking in New York City and a small piece of dust blew into her eye. She was right in front of my grandfather Moe’s flower shop at that moment and stopped walking. He had a chair in front of his shop and invited her to sit down. Moe took the dust out of her eye with a handkerchief and immediately fell in love with Alice (he thought she was very beautiful). If the dust had not blown into her eye she would never have stopped, they would not have met, and my mother, aunt, cousins, sons (and their cousins) and I would not exist. THAT is the power of the butterfly effect!! 

Here’s the Japanese Youtuber Naokiman talking about the butterfly effect:

Many science fiction films that focus on time travel show how butterfly effects happen constantly and influence our lives. Examples would be the movies Back to the Future, Avengers EndgameAbout Time and The Butterfly Effect.

Part Five: Your Brain is a Creative Learning System!

While I have a long interest in science and creativity, my primary field of study in graduate school was education. After living in Japan a few years (and meeting my wife, Hiroko) we returned to the United States and moved to California, where I studied child development, psychology and education at Stanford University, from 1988-1993. 

One really interesting thing I learned is that the human brain is essentially a creative learning device, with powerful potential. When you were born your mind was empty, you knew nothing, but over time (as you interacted with the world around you) your brain built memories, beliefs, knowledge, values, behavior patterns and many, many, many skills. 

An analogy would be that when we are born our brain is like a super computer without software, with the power to build software for ourselves as we interacted with the world. A machine can be constructed by others, but our brain is self-constructing because we each must build skills by ourselves. That is what makes human beings different from robots and computers. We use sensory input from our lives, cultures and experiences to create new skills and understandings (in our brains) by our own observation, practice and effort.

Think about how you learned to ride a bicycle, play a musical instrument or master a sport. Mastery is when we become highly skillful at something. At first you knew nothing, but as you practiced the guitar, practiced riding a bike or practiced playing a sport, you gained more skill over time. Your brain is a creative self-constructing system, meaning that only you can build new skills and knowledge. The people and conditions around you are also very important. If you don’t give practice time and attention to something (and are not given the opportunity by adults) you cannot build new skills.

Another interesting thing I learned at Stanford is that every human being has at least 8 different types of intelligence that we have the potential to develop. The psychologist Howard Gardner calls this MI theory, the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Your brain is like a creative super computer with multiple intelligences, a variety of learning potentials designed by Nature over hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

Many of these intelligences are shared by other animal species. Social and emotional intelligences help us build close relationships with others. They are the most important skills for experiencing happiness, creating a family, making friendships and working together with others. Linguistic (language) intelligence is what allows for communication, also essential for building relationships and community. Mathematical intelligence is essential for science and economics. 

Ecological and spatial intelligences are two forms of visual intelligence that use the imagination, as I talked about before. Your imagination is essential for creativity and the arts, but also for representing knowledge, as scientists such as Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein have talked about. 

Finally, musical and physical intelligence are closely connected with your body. Einstein was a skilled musician, and said his imagination and musical intelligence worked together synergistically with his understanding of mathematics to help him understand the laws of physics. So although these various intelligences are each different, we need to use them together creatively to be successful in our lives. 

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.” -Albert Einstein

Over your lifetime your brain will build thousands of different skill patterns. Each pattern is unique, with specific areas of your brain working together in harmony, like musicians in a band or muscles in your body. Each new skill (like playing the piano) is composed of hundreds of sub-patterns (like specific songs) that can take years to grow and develop, as you gain mastery. The human brain is the most complex and creative learning device on our planet, but without years of practice and experience (and opportunity) your brain cannot master new skills!

Part Six – Creative Systems Thinking 

Now that I’ve explained about your brain and multiple intelligences I’d like to return to the topic of systems thinking. I believe that human wisdom and creativity are two examples of systems thinking and that (as Einstein said) our imagination is most important. If you listen to wise people they often talk about how everything is connected in reality. Systems thinkers use their visual intelligence  to represent the connections and relationships of systems in the world. 

Even children have powerful systems thinking potential. The 12 year old students that I taught science in California were able to understand the complex relationship between our biological systems and Nature when I showed them a visual illustration. Severn Suzuki was also 12 years old but could understand with her imagination (better than most adults) how the global economy, poverty, consumer culture and environmental destruction are all connected. She also demonstrates social and emotional intelligence as well as language intelligence. She is using multiple intelligences together during her speech.

Wise people throughout history have used their imaginations (together with other intelligences) to help them understand how everything in the Universe is connected together. Leonardo da Vinci, Buddha, Einstein, Jesus and Lao Tsu (道德经) were systems thinkers, in my opinion. We can find examples of systems thinking in all cultures, because wisdom and creativity have always been essential for human success and survival. 

Here below are examples of systems thinking by two men- Mikhail Gorbachev and Steven Jobs. Gorbachev talks about the need for a new global economy that is ecological, balanced with nature instead of being destructive. So he is demonstrating spatial and ecological intelligence. Steve Jobs talks about how people need to work together in teams. He is expressing social and visual intelligence together.

Usually people think of Martin Luther King, Jr as a spiritual leader, but if you listen to him talk in this video I made (below) you can see how he uses his social, emotional, language and visual intelligences synergistically to explain how everything is connected. He says that, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”


Part Seven – Creative, Regenerative and Destructive Potentials of Nature

Human beings and all living systems are highly creative. Your brain is creative, but also your body. When your parents’ DNA joined together your life as a unique individual began. Thanks to love, they created you! But that was just the beginning. For 9 months you grew your biological systems inside your mother. This was your first creative act, slowly building your body with the DNA information from your parents. Then after you were born you continued to grow, and your brain began to create all the skills and knowledge you have today. This is the miracle of life, interdependence and our natural creativity. Both your body and brain are creative self-organizing self-constructing systems!

Along with being creative, Nature’s systems are also regenerative (自然治癒力). Regeneration is another essential systems principle. It means that a living system (body, brain, community, ecosystem) will preserve and maintain its organization and healthy functioning, that it is sustainable (持続可能性) over time. 

Life is self-organizing, interdependent and self-sustaining. The drawing of how your body is solar powered shows this. We are connected to everything around us. Your brain uses five senses to take in information. Your body takes in oxygen, energy, water and other materials from your environment to maintain and “regenerate” your biological systems. This is similar to how the economy works, which is also a self-organizing system. All animals, plants and ecosystems must regenerate, we require constant transactions with our environment to maintain our structures and existence.

Of course, a part of life is death. Living systems can regenerate for a long time, but at some point they will collapse and break down, especially if they lack the materials they need to survive. This process is called degeneration

Throughout history, many human cultures had an understanding of these 3 key processes of Nature, where creation, regeneration (maintenance) and degeneration all function together. In India, the Hindu culture developed the idea of trimūrti (Japanese: 三神一体, Sanskrit: त्रिमूर्ति), three Gods that represent the creativeregenerative and degenerative powers of the Universe. 「ブラフマー、ヴィシュヌ、シヴァの3柱は、宇宙の創造、維持、破壊という3つの機能が3人組という形で神格化されたものであるとする。」

In order to survive, many human cultures developed myths and religious ideas that encouraged systems thinking, helping them to live in harmony with Nature’s laws and principles. Nowadays, our global high technology civilization is rapidly destroying the regenerative potential of Nature. We describe this as being un-sustainable, reducing sustainability, the maintenance function of ecological systems. Most environmental problems are examples of Nature’s regenerative power being damaged by the industrialized economy and mass consumption of human beings. 

Throughout human history, our species has lived in harmony with Nature. I believe this is because ancient people used their imaginations creatively and understood the relationship of humans to Nature better. Their myths and religions were not just fantasy, they were creative cultural stories (like modern movies) that helped people understand fundamental systems processes and principles. 

Part Eight – Why is Our Modern Economic System So Out of Balance with Nature?

Currently,  our global human civilization’s relationship with Nature is degenerative and parasitic rather than mutualistic and regenerative. We have been living out of balance with Nature. Many modern people don’t even understand that we are a part of Nature, they believe we are superior to all the animals. 

When you watched Severn Suzuki‘s 1992 presentation in Rio de Janeiro, did you wonder why was 12 year old Severn so smart? It’s probably thanks to her father, David Suzuki, a Japanese-Canadian scientist and environmentalist. David Suzuki has been concerned about how many modern economists ignore the effects of industrialization on the environment. Some economists call the impact of the economy on nature externalities (something corporations don’t have to worry about). Suzuki feels this thinking is crazy and calls modern economics brain damage.

What scientists are now learning is that human economic activity is responsible for most of the damage we are experiencing with nature. Climate change, sea levels rising, pollution, species extinctions, deserts growing, water shortages, fires in Australia, floods in Japan and other dangers that are getting worse require that the understandings of economics and ecology are brought together. As David Suzuki puts it, we have to “put the ECO back into economics.”

Unfortunately, most business and government leaders are primarily focused on creating profits (money) rather than caring for Nature’s regenerative potential and restoration for future generations. They understand the importance of economic transactions but not ecological transactions

This is what Greta Thunberg and Severn Suzuki tried to explain, and why millions of young people are angry now. If Nature is not managed well and restored your generation (and all future generations) may experience crisis after crisis in the future.

Our modern civilization has been focused on technological advances, material wealth and entertainment (movies, music, television, games), while ignoring our destructive impact on (and connection to) Nature. If the creative and regenerative powers of living systems are not supported then degenerative processes of chaos will increase and entire ecosystems will collapse. 

We see this with the corona virus. It is causing problems now because it can damage the regenerative potential of human bodies, leading to death. Also, if the economy collapses from debts it means a degenerative economic stage will begin. 

Yet even more dangerous are the effects of pollution and climate change, which could lead to the extinction of many species and the collapse of human civilization. Many science fiction movies and stories have warned about this, and now that fiction is becoming our reality.

The wisdom of indigenous peoples and systems thinking is understanding that all living systems in our universe have creative (generative), regenerative (self-sustaining) and destructive (degenerative) potential. If we support the creative and regenerative potential of natural systems they will be strong, successful and thrive. If we do not, then systems will start to degenerate and collapse. 

All living systems must collapse eventually, but the genius of Nature and evolution is that life can continue to regenerate and evolve even after collapse. And the genius of human beings is that we have the highest creative potential on the planet. Buckminster Fuller, a great systems thinker, said that when something humans have designed is not working the best approach is to design a new model that is more effective. 

THAT is the challenge for human beings in the 21st century, I think. We need to all work together, be creative and redesign everything. Economic systems, education, government, energy, technology, transportation, agriculture. All of these systems can be evolved and improved, so that human beings can once again live in harmony with Nature. 

Part Nine – The Powerful Potential of Regenerative Agriculture 

Although our situation is dangerous now, I am actually very optimistic. There are many creative solutions we can implement and new ones that can be invented. We just need to all be creative systems thinkers, like people were in the past. As an example, for thousands of years most human farming was regenerative, meaning that humans grew food in harmony with Nature. As the video below explains, regenerative agriculture views farming as an ecosystem. 

Unfortunately, industrial farming is part of a globalized business system run by large corporations that care more about money and profit than Nature or human health. The methods of industrial farming are toxic, wasteful and degenerative, farmers kill insect species and destroy the health of the soil, putting massive amounts of CO2 into the air and contributing to global warming. Most large companies that sell food spray chemicals on their products and ship it far away to other countries instead of growing food locally. 

As David Suzuki has explained, they are not using their imaginations and thinking about externalities, the impact of their actions on the environment around us. This has contributed to climate change, uses a lot of energy and has caused great damage to Nature. Regenerative agriculture can transform human food production into something helpful rather than harmful, acting as global carbon sinks.

Eventually the industrial approach will collapse (if changes are not made), we won’t have enough water and healthy soil to grow food for everyone. That would mean mass human starvation and global species extinctions.  Please read these links (in Japanese) to understand better:  次世代農業を展望する & 工業化された農業によって地球は「第六の大量絶滅期」を迎えると科学者が警鐘を鳴らす

A well known type of regenerative agriculture in Japan is natural farming (自然農法), an ecological farming approach established by Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡正信 (1913–2008), who introduced these ideas in his book The One-Straw Revolution. Fukuoka described his way of farming as 自然農法 (shizen nōhō). It is also referred to as “the Fukuoka Method”, “the natural way of farming” or “do-nothing farming”. 

Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural farming is similar to organic farmingsustainable agricultureagroforestryecoagriculture and permaculture. There are many different regenerative methods. By working together with Nature, not fighting and destroying Nature, they can increase biodiversity, returning carbon and water to the soil. The most important thing is for every community to focus on growing as much of its own food as possible, locally.

Part Ten – Shifting from Globalization to More Local Economics 

As we have seen, the industrial global economy creates huge profits and wealth for only a few people. It also wastes resources, uses much energy and destroys the natural environment. Local economics is community centered, focusing on maximizing the creative and regenerative potential of nature and people in every location. 

It’s similar to how your body cares for all cells equally. If you do not have healthy cells everywhere in your body you will become sick. Indigenous cultures all take this approach, focusing on keeping a balance between Nature and community, and thinking about future generations. The old economic systems of Asia were similar, actually, such as the Satoyama culture of Japan.

Our global economy uses destructive methods to grow food quickly, in order to mass produce things and make a lot of money for business investors. Cheap labor is needed so people around the world are kept poor as they grow crops like cocoa, coffee, bananas and cotton to export to wealthier people in rich nations. 

Why is our global economy designed this way, keeping billions very poor but making a small number of human beings very wealthy? The modern period we are in now is sometimes called the age of globalization, but it has its roots in colonialism, as well as racism and slavery. Every system that exists has a long history, with our global economic system going back thousands of years to the beginning of large human empire civilizations.

Please watch the first 7 minutes of this video (in English with Japanese subtitles). They describe how slavery began as a way to find cheap labor for mass the production of products. The purpose was to use people to increase the economic prosperity of wealthy nations. 

After World War 2 ended, the wealthiest nations of Asia, Europe and North America experienced greater peace within their countries. Unfortunately, militarism is still very strong and wars have continued in poor parts of the world with great resources, such as the Middle East and Africa. This situation is sometimes called the North-South Divide.

Most of the strongest economic powers right now are former colonial empires, like Japan, France, England, Germany, America and Russia. We’ve been able to keep our relationships peaceful and our interconnected global economy strong, while still allowing wars and poverty to continue in less rich and powerful nations. How has this been done?

Please watch this TED Talk on the Weapons Industry by Samantha Nutt and a short video narrated by John Perkins, a whistleblower who describes how Western banks and corporations work together to keep developing nations poor: 

Nowadays, slavery is illegal, but still billions of poor people in Africa (and around the world) are used as “cheap labor” for the mass production of foods like cocoa and to produce metals and diamonds. They do not unite because wars (using weapons supplied by Northern nations) create social chaos. Meanwhile, poor people are working hard to provide us with a convenient life.

Why is the global economy so destructive towards poor people, often treating workers very badly, especially the primary producers who grow crops or work in factories? A documentary film called The Corporation (ザ・コーポレーション) looked at these questions:

After watching these videos please do some research on these topics. Do you agree or disagree that our modern global economy is a new form of colonialism? Do you believe that the whistleblower John Perkins is truthfully describing what he witnessed? What is your opinion of the perspectives shared here?

Part Eleven – How to Become Wiser as a Species, How to Align with the Laws of Nature?

In order to make these changes we have looked at, big shifts in thinking and culture are needed. Why aren’t these ideas being shared more widely in schools? Why aren’t more children encouraged to develop all their multiple intelligences and use their imagination as Einstein suggested?

Currently most education is highly compartmentalized. Teachers are responsible for only one topic and students study that topic alone, without learning about connections. Children’s multiple intelligences are usually ignored. The goal for students is to memorize information for tests, but it’s difficult to remember because the focus is mostly on words and numbers (linguistic and mathematical intelligence). There is little emphasis on using your imagination (visual intelligence) to understand how everything in history, nature and the universe fits together and is interrelated.

My view is that most problems in the world (such as war, racism, economic collapse, environmental destruction, drug addiction, suicide, poverty) exist because modern human civilizations (and our education systems) teach us to ignore the way everything (and everyone) on our planet is connected. They teach us to compartmentalize (separate) knowledge in our heads rather than how to use our imaginations to connect all knowledge together. They don’t teach how we are connected to human history, Nature, our solar system and the Universe.

Most people also believe that imagination and visual intelligence are rare strengths of artists, not a common human potential we all must develop to understand reality better. I wanted to be an artist because I thought my skills were rare but decided to focus on education and science because I believe that all children have great creative potential.

I love scientists like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman, and Leonardo Da Vinci who describe the interconnections and beauty of our Universe. All of them shared the idea that your imagination is essential to help you understand how everything that exists is connected together and exists as a unified whole. Modern artist Josephine Wall created this painting to express that same idea.

I believe that the best way to help children become wiser and more creative is for education to focus more on art and music, developing social intelligence, emotional intelligence and enjoying learning as a community. Everyone has unknown potentials, each of us is unique in a different way. Children should spend more time outside in forests and on beaches, learning from Nature directly, as indigenous people do. We should also study how everything in history and nature is connected. If we use our imaginations wisely we can come up with local solutions to complex problems, such as the racism, poverty and environmental destruction that is happening now.

For the last hundred years education systems around the world have focused too much on testing and measuring children. Students spend too much time in classrooms with books, and now with technology. It’s often boring and very competitive, and does not give children enough chance to be creative. 

When I was in graduate school, I worked on a school reform project that focused on the equal education of every child in a community. We encouraged children to be creative and learn outside the classroom. To help a community improve its potential every child must be given a chance to to develop multiple intelligences, skills and talents. Please watch this video showing this type of project:

The goal with this form of education is make schools like a community, to help children develop their multiple intelligences and creative potential, so they can understand how everything (and everyone) is connected together. By focusing on interesting experiences and creative learning children will be better prepared to solve complex problems and build strong social relationships, enjoying their lives and hopefully feeling grateful for this mysterious Universe and beautiful planet that we live upon.

Nature’s wisdom can be shared with children. Nature’s wisdom is inside all children. We are Nature! The key for good education is connecting knowledge with imagination and compassion (love). When we bring love (social and emotional intelligence), imagination (visual intelligence) and knowledge (linguistic, mathematical intelligence) together creatively (as David Suzuki helped his daughter Severn to do) even children can become highly skilled and very wise. 

If we learn directly from Nature, learn to use our heart and imagination together, we will all begin to think more like Albert Einstein. This is the great challenge and opportunity of our time!

Because of our advanced technology, many modern humans think of themselves as more intelligent than Nature. Many believe humans are the most intelligent life. Yet we are the most destructive species! We look at Indigenous cultures and call them “primitive” but don’t realize the wisdom they had, that we need.

Why are modern humans the most powerful species on the planet?Please watch this TED Talk (with Japanese subtitles) by Yuval Harari, an Israeli researcher. He talks about why humans have been such a successful species, but also why we have so many problems. Harari believes that our power comes from cooperation skills and imagination. With our imaginations (and language skills) humans have created powerful cultures that can unite large numbers of us together, including the cultures of nationalism, religions, colonialism, empires and globalization.

Harari calls this a “fiction” because human beliefs (like racial superiority, nationalism, even money) are like stories in our minds that groups of people share and see as truth. Sometimes these stories can be very helpful but sometimes they can become a kind of brainwashing or mind control, like with Nazi Germany or North Korea.

Wisdom may require an open mind and open heart, where we don’t believe everything our culture tells us is true. With compassion and wisdom, we become careful about what we believe and try to connect more directly with “objective” reality. 

One way to think about this is that Nature gave us our hardware (biology, multiple intelligences, social community) but culture is like software. The recent “ego-logic” of empire civilizations is something new, that we have the power to change. We cannot change our biology or the laws of Nature, but we can change our cultures and the human systems (political, economic, military, industrial, educational, technological) that we have created.

Nature took over a billion years to design countless species using creative, regenerative (and degenerative) processes. Our own species is rather young. We spread out from Africa over a hundred thousand years ago and now we have come together again. It’s a miracle that we are here, but we need to unite together and change how we think and act if we want to create a happy future. 

Especially right now, as we face many potential crisis, I believe that human beings need to change how we think and live. We need to become wiser as a species, we need to evolve our cultures and redesign our human systems. By valuing imagination, learning, love, local community and Nature’s wisdom (more than technology and money) we have a better chance of fixing our problems and living in harmony with Mother Earth. If you want to be happy the most important thing is to share love and to love your life. Please see Alan Watts ideas (in English with Japanese translations) about this below:

We are all connected to Nature and each other. It is your true human potential to be creative, wise and loving. We need to love Nature and take care of all other animals, like we are one family. If modern humans value and develop that potential we will be happy. If we don’t, the future will bring much unhappiness. Indigenous wisdom tells us this, and so does modern science. Systems thinking has guided human beings for tens of thousands of years. 

Butterfly effects can create chaos, but they can also regenerate and transform global systems. With imagination and love we can evolve our cultures and the whole world. We need to re-design our current economic system, to make it regenerative instead of destructive. We have a big debt to Nature, we must pay back that debt. We can BE a Global Butterfly EffectLet’s work together, all future generations are depending on us!

The above videos, images and text was the second of three interactive units shared online with University students in Japan, giving them over a month to absorb the information and respond with their own ideas and opinions about each of the topics. The first unit on Ecological Problems in the 21st Century can be seen here.  
~Christopher Chase, 2021~

“The most interesting thing I learned from this class is that we need to use both creativity and wisdom. I have been taught a lot of knowledge since I entered an elementary school. To be honest, the education was boring to me because we were required to gain knowledge efficiently without realizing how to use it. However, after taking this class, I realized that what we needed in education was creativity in our mind and wisdom from the ancestors. They are useful and help us understand and tackle what is happening in the world correctly. In order for everyone to use them naturally, we need to adopt the educational system to one where creativity and wisdom are thought to be the most important factors.” ~Japanese student providing feedback about this class

About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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2 Responses to Creativity, Imagination & Systems Thinking

  1. Barbara S says:

    brilliant – need to work through. Minor typo I think in the quote from the student: Meant to say ‘adapt the education…’ Thanks for all your work es ever!

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