Remembering a Man Bubbling Over With Ideas

'Bucky' Fuller thought big in designing cities, houses, cars for Spaceship Earth - and pushed others to think for themselves

TODAY'S global and local dialogues could benefit from the think-for-yourself perspectives of one of the world's great thinkers and doers, R. Buckminster Fuller, who would have been 100 today.

Despite his "genius" reputation as architect, engineer, mathematician, philosopher, and poet, he had an insatiable curiosity and genuine humility, as expressed in his desire to be called "Bucky."

Our family was fortunate to have intersected with Bucky a number of times during his long creative life, which he spent both searching his insights and traversing the globe, discovering "generalized operating principles." He championed a "design science revolution" which calls for success for humanity through intuition and ingenuity.

Humans were created, Bucky insisted, to be "local-universe problem-solvers." As father, author, editor, and speaker, he consciously trained himself to be "in tune" with the needs of others while always expressing himself - whether lecturing on "Spaceship Earth," consulting with heads of state, sailing off the Maine coast, or designing cars or buildings that do "more with less."

Before the term "Future Shock" came into vogue, Fuller modeled how to live with uncertainty. "I live where the cresting waves break," he said. "Every day, every minute is different."

In 1953, when Fuller was a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, he told a group that it was perfectly possible to design cities without sewers. At the time, he was experimenting with a 100-gallon water system in his New York apartment which recycled water for all his uses.

Some years later, a leadership group assembled to design an experimental city in northern Minnesota, and Fuller eagerly joined the steering committee. The opportunity to start fresh in planning an urban center was irresistible.

Bucky wanted to put one of his lightweight geodesic domes over the entire city, with a population projected to reach 250,000 in 20 years. Finally, he agreed to two domed areas of 250 acres each - one for recreation and one for health care, an early wellness program concept. He loved the idea of walking out one side of a building, under the dome, into tropical heat, and out the other side into a Minnesota snowstorm.

He predicted to the Minnesota legislature, which created a public authority to plan the Experimental City, that this city would become the international air hub. He showed his Fuller map projection, with Minnesota in the exact center of the world's "island" land mass.

Even though the city was never built, many of its innovative plans, including Fuller's enclosures, were tried elsewhere.

Fuller was absolutely convinced that mistakes are how we learn: "Mistake-making is the cosmic wisdom's way of teaching each of us how to carry on."

In his standing-room-only speeches, sometimes pacing the floor with eyes shining through his thick black-rimmed glasses, he implored people to think for themselves: "Please get yourself educated as quickly as you can. Don't get mixed up by the crossfire of information. The only way you'll get there is by doing your own thinking. So simply begin to dare, dare, dare. Listen to your own mind. It's now possible for life to be a success. For everybody."

Fuller predicted the interconnection of computers, cellular phones, and today's communications technology.

As he watched science, knowledge, and communications capacity increase vastly during his lifetime, he also noted that it became less physical. "The reality in which humans deal is 99.999 percent metaphysical - only detectable through instruments evolved by the human mind's discovery of the principles eternally operative in the universe," he said.

Along with encouraging us to think big, he also asked us to get real. Politics and today's economic warfare, he said, use lies as their primary weapons. "But," he wrote in this newspaper in 1974, "the universe doesn't operate on lies, it operates on truth."

While some of his philosophy may have sounded naively optimistic, he was clear about what discovery-focused thinking had told him: "I know that humanity has the option of realizing comprehensive and sustainable success for all humanity for all time to come. But knowing that humans have an option is quite different from being an optimist."

If he were here for this anniversary, he would be crackling with new ideas, but he'd remind us to think for ourselves.

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