Systems, slime mould and motorways

I am currently thinking about systems thinking. This has been a major component in my mental architecture for decades, but so much of government and organisational thinking manifestly does not incorporate a systems perspective that I wondered if ‘systems’ has now become old hat. (Whoever thought PFI – or its current reincarnation – was/is a good idea??? Not a systems thinker,for sure. Who devised carbon trading? Same comment!)

First I trawled journals with’ systems’ in the title – our library has 43 pages of these, including fascinating titles like ‘Intelligent systems’, ‘Intelligent and fuzzy systems’ and ‘Intelligent information systems’. Clearly there are a lot of academics who still think systems of some sort or another are interesting.

Next I looked at sample items to see if they saw systems even remotely in the way I did. And that was when I came up with what has to be my favourite title of the decade so far: ‘Are motorways rational from slime mould’s point of view?’

Systems thinking is a way of thinking about complex problems derived from what we know about biological organisms. This takes things a whole step further. The researchers actually used slime mould as a physical way of modelling road development. They ‘inoculated’ oat flakes with slime mould and put them at the ‘capital’ of an agar region, and saw what happened. Even if, like me the maths passes you by, the idea is mind-boggling. It is by Adamatzky et al. (2013) in the International Journal of Parallel, Emergent and Distributed Systems, Vol. 28, No. 3, 230–248, or available electronically at

Intuition on the old salt way

The first day of summer, and walking the old Cotswold salt way, discussing the workings of intuition in mathematics and management, and new ways of teaching proof by induction. Glorious- so many greens, all fresh and shining, and cowslips and a wayfaring tree in perfect flower. Impossible to feel guilt at another day’s divorce from the keyboard.