The care and feeding of symmathesy


  • A garden
  • A farm
  • A child you are raising
  • A pet
  • A inventory management system in a warehouse
  • A busy dental practice
  • A bus system
  • A city wide transportation system
  • The cutlery in a kitchen


symmathesy … living systems … systems which emerge from the communications and interactions of living vitae

vitae … from the Latin vita, meaning life …↑… Instead of "parts" and "wholes" let us think of boundaries in symmathesy as interfaces of learning. We will refer to these interfaces as “vitae”

Nora Bateson "Symmathesy: A Word in Progress"


When you realise you are a farmer, you begin to care for your farm. When you discover you have a garden, you tend your garden. When a child comes into your life, you look after the child.

Doing all of these things involves "The care and feeding of symmathesy."

Farms, gardens and babies are great examples of symmathesy. They're not "metaphorically" like symmathesy, they literally are symmathesy.

Most symmathesy include biological life among their components (for example the users, customers, developers, testers, producers of an instance of software) and they must in some way include the "vitae" that Nora Bateson speaks of in her talk that introduced the word Symmathesy. I will use that word many times on this page. I might as well abbreviate it sym.

It's also interesting to see the boundary of what is not a sym.

A piece of software sitting on a hard drive is not a sym. An instances of that software running in the world is a sym.

And a sym may exist inside another sym.

It may be sufficient to consider a sym in isolation of other syms, and still make valid predictions about its future behaviour. In reality there are usually more sym interacting with this one, unless the vitae is entirely astract, such as a game of life

Jessica Kerr's talk

Here's the talk itself.

If I were the person I wanted to be I'd write notes about it and put them here.

At the very least I should list the biggest ideas from the talk:

  • symmathesy

General notes:

  • florentine camerata, innovation in a group
  • learning through discussion and performance and rivalry and cooperation
  • uncertain credits later but history changed

Twitter link re Jessica Kerr's talk:



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