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CHAPTER 3.2: SOLUTION TO THE CASE?

3.21: The Triad Model

The model can be called, somewhat whimsically, The Three Interfaces of Adam, because it can be described in terms of the Christian cosmology. Imagine Adam all alone on our planet before it got so complicated. He had to deal only with the natural world - let us call it the ecosphere. Along came Eve and they prospered and multiplied, introducing another great sphere to Adam's environment, consisting of other people - let us call it the sociosphere. As Adam and Eve and their progeny made discoveries about and inventions from their environment, they built up a third great sphere, consisting of person-made things - let us call it the technosphere.

So here we have Adam or Eve, or you or me, in an environment represented by three spheres [see Figure 3-2]. The person, the only system within the universe which belongs to all three spheres, is in the centre - the triple overlap of the three spheres. The person is the most complex system in the ecosphere - the natural world; the person is the element of the sociosphere - the social world; the person is the source of the technosphere - the artificial world. It is essential, then, that we distinguish among those three aspects of the environment. The ecosphere conforms to the laws of the natural sciences; the sociosphere to the laws of the social sciences; the technosphere to the laws of what Herbert Simon calls The Sciences of the Artificial.1

You may reasonably say that this model is too broad. Indeed, it is. How broad is it? It is so broad that it contains not only everything I am going to write but everything anyone has ever written in the past or everything anyone will ever write in the future.

However, we academics tend to be too narrow. If the person in the centre is a natural scientist (physicist, biologist, etc.), he (she) tends to look out over the ecosphere; if the person in the centre is a social scientist (economist, political scientist, etc.), he (she) tends to look out over the sociosphere; if the person in the centre is an expert in the sciences of the artificial (architect, engineer, etc.), he (she) tends to look out over the technosphere.

They are like the three blind men, each in contact with a part of the elephant and getting a false view of the whole elephant. One encouraging sign of the recent times is that we are beginning to step back and look at more of the elephant. Some people are looking at the overlap of ecosphere and sociosphere - for example, studies of legislation about conservation on our natural environment; some people are looking at the overlap of sociosphere and technosphere - for example, social assessment studies of the human impact of technology; some people are looking at the overlap of the ecosphere and the technosphere - for example, technology assessment studies of the environmental impact of technology.

You may reasonably say that this model is over-simplified. Indeed, it is. However, we academics tend to under-simplify things. It is a useful first slice of reality. It is like a first introduction to Montreal. It is an island with a mountain in the middle. Downtown is between the river and the mountain. There are four major East-West streets - Sherbrooke, de Maisonneuve, St. Catherine, and Dorchester. The other major downtown streets - Atwater, Guy, Peel, University, Park, St. Laurent, St. Denis - cut those four streets at right angles. Within that general framework, the details can be fitted in.

One reason why this model is recommended is because it consists of seven categories (represented by the seven different patterns in Figure 3-2). George Miller, in his classical paper The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information argued that we are capable of handling simultaneously only seven categories (give or take a couple).2 Being average people, then, seven categories are just about right for us.

Did it work as a synthesis? Indeed, we think, it did. Our future will be determined, as has our past, by the complex interaction among those three vast spheres. Futurists differ, however, in the relative emphasis on those three spheres.

Some argue that the ecosphere will become more important in the future than it has been in the past. Let us call this the ecosphere-as-cause scenario. Within this camp, there are pessimists and optimists. The pessimists, for example, the Club of Rome in their book The Limits to Growth, argue that we are going to destroy our civilization by using up our natural non-renewable resources. The optimists, for example, the GAMMA Group, to which I belong, in our book The Conserver Society argue that we can eke out those resources for considerably longer by conservation policies.3

Some argue that the sociosphere will be relatively more important in the future. Let us call this the sociosphere-as-cause scenario. Once again, we have the pessimists and the optimists. The pessimists, all the way from Thomas Malthus to Paul Ehrlich, argue that the primary problem is one of over-population. The optimists are the advocates of capitalism and communism and - a third option for the Third World - the New International Economic Order, who argue that those people can be organized into productive systems which will generate the wealth to sustain them.4

Some argue that the technosphere will be relatively more important in the future. Let us call this the technosphere-as-cause scenario. Once again, as always, the pessimists and the optimists. The optimists (for example, R. Buckminster Fuller in his book Utopia or Oblivion), argue that, through technology, each of us can live as kings lived in the last century. The pessimists (for example, Jacques Ellul in his book The Technological Society) argue that technology is not only not a solution but is part of the problem.5

Within each pessimist camp, there is, of course, the no-future future. The ecosphere-as-cause doomsday scenario is that we will wipe ourselves out by using up our natural resources; the sociosphere-as-cause scenario is that we will destroy our-selves by over-populating our planet; the technosphere-as-cause scenario is that we will blow our planet up with nuclear weapons. In The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot predicts

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.
Doom-sayers offer us a choice between two whimpers and a bang.



1   Herbert A. Simon. The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1969.

2   George A. Miller, The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 1956, 63, Pages 81-97.

3   Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers & William W. Behrens 111, The Limits to Growth. New York: New American Library, 1972.

Kimon Valaskakis, Peter S. Sindell, J. Graham Smith & Iris Fitzpatrick-Martin, The Conserver Society: A Workable Alternative for the Future. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

4   The capitalist and communist literatures are voluminious and ubiuitous. The literature advocating a New International Economic Order - a third option for the Third World - is less extensive and less familiar. The following books can serve as a starter set: Willy Brandt, North-South: A Programme for Survival. Saint-Amand, France: Edi-tions Gaillimard, 1980. Johan Galtung, Towards Self-reliance and Global Interdependence. Ottawa: Department of Environment, 1978.

5   Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society. New York: Knopf, 1964.

R. Buckminster Fuller, Utopia or Oblivion. New York: Bantam, 1969.