Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Genius of R. Buckminster Fuller

Thanks to my good friend Jean Lanoix, I just finished reading GRUNCH of Giants by the late R. Buckminster Fuller, a mind so brilliant that reading his book made my head spin.

Although Fuller is best known as the inventor of Geodesic Domes, he accomplished much more. I personnaly regard him as one of the great geniuses of the 20th Century.

Let me share with you an excerpt of the book where Fuller's accomplishments are listed. It is quite staggering.


There exists a realizable,evolutionary alternative to our being either atom-bombed into extinction or crowding ourselves off the planet.The alternative is the computer-persuadable veering of big businessfrom its weaponry fixation to accommodation of all humanity at an aerospace level of technology,with the vastly larger,far more enduringly profitable for all, entirely newWorld Livingry Service Industry.

It is statistically evidentthat the more advancedt he living standard,the lower the birth rate.It is essential that anyone reading this book know at the outset that the author is apolitical. I was convinced in 1927 that humanity's most fundamental survival problems could never be solved by politics. Nineteen twenty seven was the year when a human first flew alone across an ocean in one day.(In 1944, the DC-4 started flying secret war-ferryings across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1961, jet airliners put the ocean passenger ships out of business. In 1981, the world-around airlines flew over a billion and a half scheduled passenger miles and carried hundreds of millions of ton-miles of freight.)

This was the obvious beginning of the swift integration of all humanity, groups of whose members for all their previous millions of years on planet Earth had been so remotely deployed from one another that they existed as separate nations with ways of life approximately unknown to one another. It was obvious that the integration would require enormous amounts of energy. It was obvious that the fossil fuels were exhaustible. It was obvious that a minority of selfish humans would organize themselves to exploit the majority's transitional dilemmas.
I was convinced that within the twentieth century, all of humanity on our planet would enter a period of total crisis. I could see that there was an alternative to politics and its ever more wasteful, warring, and inherently vain attempts to solve one-sidedly all humanity's basic economic and social problems.

That alternative was through invention, development, and reduction to the physically working stages of massproduction prototypes of each member of a complete family of intercomplementary artifacts, structurally, mechanically, chemically, metallurgically, electromagnetically, and cybernetically designed to provide so much performance per each erg of energy, pound of material, and second of time invested as to make it eminently feasible and practicable to provide a sustainable standard of living for all humanity--more advanced, pleasing, and increasingly productive than any ever experienced or dreamed of by anyone in all history.

It was clear that this advanced level could be entirely sustained by the many derivatives of our daily income of Sun energy. It was clear that it could be attained and maintained by artifacts that would emancipate humans from piped, wired, and metered exploitation of the many by the few. This family of artifacts leading to such comprehensive human success I identified as livingry in contradistinction to politics' weaponry. I called it technologically reforming the environment instead of trying politically to reform the people. (I explain that concept in great detail in the latter part of this book. I also elucidated it in my book Critical Path, published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press.)

Equally important, I set about fifty-five years ago (1927) to see what a penniless, unknown human individual with a dependent wife and newborn child might be able to do effectively on behalf of all humanity in realistically developing such an alternative program.

Being human, I made all the mistakes there were to be made, but I learned to learn by realistic recognition of the constituent facts of the mistake-making and attempted to understand what the uncovered truths were trying to teach me.

In my Philadelphia archives there are approximately forty thousand articles published during the last sixty years which successively document my progressive completions of the whole intercomplementary family of scheduled artifacts. These livingry items include the following:

Tensegrity: The continuous-tension/discontinuous-compression structuring principle of Universe (i.e., stars not touching planets, electrons not touching their atomic nuclei) introduced to planet Earth to replace the continuously compressioned, secondarily tensioned structuring in present world-around engineering theory. Designed, 1929; prototyped, 1929.

The Dymaxion House: The autonomous, mass-producible, air-deliverable dwelling machine weighing only 3 percent of its equivolumed and equipped, conventional counterpart, single-family dwelling. Designed, 1927; modeled, 1928; helicopter-delivered, 1954.

The one-piece, 250-pound bathroom: Designed, 1928; prototyped, 1936; mass-produced in polyester fiberglass in West Germany, 1970.

Synergetics: Exploration and publishing of the fourdimensional geometrical coordinate system employed by nature. (See Synergetics and Synergetics II [New York: Macmillan, 1975, 1979].) Discovered, 1927; published, 1944.

Dymaxion World Map: Discovery and development of a new cartographic projection system by which humanity can view the map of the whole planet Earth as oneworld island in one-world ocean, without any visible distortion in the relative size and shape of any of the land masses and without any breaks in the continental contours. This is the undistorted map for studying world problems and displaying in their true proportion resources and other data. Discovered, 1933; published, 1943.

World Game: A grand-strategy program developing the design science of solving all problems with artifacts, invented by self or others, which take advantage of all scientific and technological development through studies of their effects on the total world's social and economic affairs as ascertainable from the Dymaxion SkyOcean World Map. A means of assessing the feasibility of realizing various initiatives in solving world problems. Invented, 1927; applied, 1928.

Trends and Transformation Charts: These depict the total history of all the metallurgical, chemical, electromagnetic, structural, and mechanical trendings to greater performance per given amounts of given materials, time, and energy. A compendium of all the scenarios of science and technology's evoluting advances. Chronological chart of total history of scientific discoveries and technical inventions. Chronological chart of the mining of all metals and recirculation of the scrap of those metals. Chronological charts of all major industries' performances assessed in terms of per capita human use. These charts, begun in 1928; first published, 1937, at Bureau of Standards, Washington, D.C.; published in Nine Chains to the Moon, 1938; published in Fortune magazine's tenth anniversary issue, 1940. This issue of Fortune went into three printings and took Fortune from red- to black-ink status. It changed U.S.A. and world economic health assessment from a tonnage criteria to one based on energy consumption.

The Dymaxion Omnitransport (for land, air, water-surface, and submarine travel): The first full-scale working prototype stage of which was the Dymaxion car, produced to test the crosswind ground-taxiing behaviors of an omni-streamlined, ultimately to be twin-orientablejet-stilts-flown, wingless flying device, which would take off and land like an eagle or duck, without any prepared landing fields (similar in principle to the forty-yearslater descent and takeoff, multijet system of the Apollo Moon Landing craft). Designed, 1927; prototyped, 1933.

Geodesic Domes: The unlimited-size, clear-span structures to accommodate both humanity's converging and deploying activities. Invented, 1938; prototyped, 1947. Since then, over 300,000 have been produced and installed around the world from northernmost Greenland to the exact South Pole; over 100,000 installed in children's playgrounds.

Octet Truss: The flooring or roofing structure for unlimited spanning. Designed, 1933; prototyped, 1949.

The Fog Gun: The pneumatic means of cleaning human body, dishes, clothing, etc., without plumbing's pipedin water supply. Designed, 1927; prototyped, 1949.

Compact, odorless toilet equipment: For conversion of human wastes into methane gas and fertilizer. Designed, 1928; proven in India; now being refined for production use.

Carbon blocks-inserted, copper disc-brakes: Invented and successfully demonstrated at Phelps Dodge, 1937.

Bunsen-burner-melted, water-cooled centrifuge: For processing low-grade tin ore. Invented and successfully demonstrated at Phelps Dodge, 1937.

Hanging bookshelves, and other furniture: Invented, 1928; prototyped, 1930.

Modeling of all geometric developments of energetic-synergetic geometry: Including tensegrity models of all geometrical structures and the hierarchy of primitive structural systems. The minimum, all-space-filling module. The foldable, seven unique great-circle models. The tetrahelixes. Discovered, 1927; demonstrated, 1936.

Twin-hull rowing and sailing devices: Invented, 1938; prototyped, 1954.

Triangular geodesic framing of ocean-sailing hulls: Invented, 1948; successfully demonstrated, I.O.R. racing sloop Imp, 1979.

Very frequently I hear or read of my artifacts adjudged by critics as being "failures," because I did not get them into mass-production and "make money with them." Such money-making-as-criteria-of-success critics do not realize that money-making was never my goal.

I learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive.

I saw that nature has various categories of unique gestation lags between conception of something and its birth. In humans, conception to birth is nine months. In electronics, it is two years between inventive conception and industrialized production. In aeronautics, it is five years between invention and operating use. In automobiles, it is ten years between conception and mass-production. In railroading, the gestation is fifteen years. In big-city skyscraper construction, the gestational lag is twenty-five years. For instance, it was twenty-five years between the accidental falling of a steel bar into fresh cement and the practical use of steel-reinforced concrete in major buildings. Dependent on the size and situation, the period of gestation in the single-family residences varies between fifty and seventy-five years.

Because of these lags, the earlier I could introduce the conception model, the earlier its birth could take place. I assumed that the birth into everyday life of the livingry artifacts whose working conceptual prototypes I was producing would be governed by those respective-category gestation lags. I assumed my livingry inventions' progressive adoptions by society would occur only in emergencies. I called this "emergence through emergency." For all of humanity to begin to break away from its conditioned reflexes regarding living facilities (home customs and styles), allowing them to be advantaged by my livingry artifacts, would take at minimum a half century to get underway. Since this was clearly a half-to-three-quartersof-a-century undertaking, I saw at the outset that I best not attempt it if I was not content to go along with nature's laws.


cjfsyntropy said...

Fuller's design science revolution continues and has been part of the discussion at the Synergetics Collaborative which organizes workshops, seminars & symposiums to build upon Bucky Fuller's path breaking work.

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