In the book we cite five movies, each of which illustrates the essence of one way of thinking systemically. Why not intersperse your reading of chapters by getting out the popcorn and indulging yourself in some great film-watching?

The Butterfly Effect

The central character of this movie is Evan. As a young adult, Evan discovers that he can travel back in time and change his actions. Each time he returns to his past to change an action, he triggers a new future. These alternative futures include becoming a college student, a prison inmate and a double amputee. There are often dreadful consequences for Evan or one of his friends. As you watch the movie, ask yourself – is Evan thinking through a first order linear lens? What might he do if he accessed a different way of thinking?

Groundhog Day

Weatherman Phil Connors visits Punxsutawney with news producer Rita Hanson and cameraman Larry to cover the Groundhog Day festivities on February 2nd. There is a snowstorm and they all have to spend the night in Punxsutawney, much to Phil’s disgust. Next morning Phil wakes up and it is the morning of February 2nd again. The day plays itself out exactly as it did the day before. Phil goes to bed and again wakes up on February 2nd, and again, and again. Every day is Groundhog Day. It isn’t until Phil starts to think differently that things begin to change.

Chaos Theory

This movie really doesn’t talk to Chaos Theory at all. It might be better titled Second Order Systems Theory though that wouldn’t be as catchy. Frank is a lecturer on time management. He lives by example, planning out his days to the last minute. One day his wife changes the clocks by ten minutes so that Frank can get up ten minutes earlier and do a task for her without having to replan his whole day. Unfortunately, she accidentally sets the clocks ten minutes later instead of earlier. Frank cannot cope. He misses the ferry to work and the rest of his day is ruined. Like the Dice Man, in the book by Luke Rhinehart , he makes decisions by choosing one of three index cards at random.

Mr Nobody

This movie probably better deserves the title Chaos Theory. The central character is Nemo, who is interviewed about his past life at the age of 118. He recounts pivotal points in his life, beginning with his parent’s divorce when he is aged nine, when he has to choose whether to live with his mother or father. At the end of the interview Nemo tells the interviewer that … well we can’t tell you that without spoiling the ending!

Dirk Gently Holistic Detective Agency

We cheated a bit here and went back to the books, finding lots of quotes to illustrate a meta-systemic way of thinking about systems. The author, Douglas Adams, reminds us not to dismiss the value of all these five ways of thinking, including first order non-linear.

If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidæ on our hands.”

But he also encourages us to explore the value of looking at patterns.

“The term ‘holistic’ refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, tell-tale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson. Let me give you an example. If you go to an acupuncturist with toothache he sticks a needle instead into your thigh. Do you know why he does that, Mrs Rawlinson? No, neither do I, Mrs Rawlinson, but we intend to find out.”