1998 ISSS Atlanta Conference
Panel Sessions









Summary of Session on :

by John P. van Gigch

Session Chair: G. A. Swanson

Panel Members: Len Troncale, Kjell Samuelson, Robert Flood, M. C. Jackson, Janet Allen.

The meeting started with a short presentation by van Gigch. van Gigch stated that he was attempting answers to the following questions:

“In the future, will System Science remain a viable scientific discipline?” and, “In the Future, will System Science play an important role among the constellation of scientific disciplines?

In his presentation, van Gigch provided a personal assessment of System Science. He stated that a great deal of research work remains to be done to formalize the discipline’s knowledge into meaningful theories , to be later developed into useful methodologies which can be applied to problems . The speaker emphasized four words and then went on to develop his theme according to these topics:

* Formalization of knowledge

* Theories

* Methodologies, and

* Problems

van Gigch went on to assess System Science at three levels of inquiry. System Science’s progress as a viable scientific discipline can be carried out by evaluating it from the perspective of three different
levels of inquiry.

* The epistemological level,

* The scientific level, and,

* The implementation level.

van Gigch continued his presentation by referring to his search of a paradigm for System Science We recall, he said, that “the paradigm of a discipline is an epistemological statement which embodies the very essence of the discipline.”

He concluded by stating:

* System Science is only one of the component sciences of the Sciences of Complexity and does not encompass other sciences. He referred to French authors like J. L. Le Moigne who have developed this proposition.

* After more than thirty years, System Science, has not developed a distinct paradigm i.e. an epistemological statement which embodies the very essence of the discipline. According to the speaker, the above propositions lead him to recommend that the International Society for System Sciences (ISSS) be re-named:The International Society for the Sciences of Complexity (ISSC)

In conclusion, he contended that:

The future of System Science is bright, but the future of the Science(s) of Complexity is brighter.

The presentation by van Gigch provoked a lively discussion with active participation of the larger than usual audience. It soon became obvious that, in the last few years, the ISSS “has suffered a memory loss,” i.e. work by early pioneers in systems has been completed forgotten. Len Troncale, one of the panelists, disagreed with van Gigch, arguing that System Sciences encompass the Sciences of Complexity, and not the other way around. Many members of the audience offered their opinion on the propositions presented by van Gigch. G. A. Swanson terminated the session by arguing that the future of the society will be decided by where its members will take it. The Society may evolve in unsuspected ways. It may even change its name. It is not important at this time to decide on a name or whether the discipline is a distinct discipline. What is important is to let the future be decided through mutual interaction and deliberations.

Summarized by J.P. van Gigch


Rebuttal by Tom Mandel

Mandel expressed his concern about the relative lack of reference to Ludwig von Bertalanffy and his teachings.

Mandel responded to some of the points raised by van Gigch specifically about the lack of a DISTINCT PARADIGM ( "System Science, has not developed a distinct paradigm i.e. an epistemological statement which embodies the very essence of the discipline").

MANDEL referred the official ISSS symbol, a gestalt figure, which actually shows the relationship between parts and that whole, "we DO have a core model." Mandel also commented on the four domains model originally proposed by von Bertalanffy, and later adapted by Banathy and the Primer group as the Four Domains of Philosophy, Theory, Methodology and Practice. We DO have a research model.

Mandel questioned the wisdom of changing the name of ISSS to a society of Complex studies, and referred to Murray Gell Mann's new science of "Plectics" which Gell Mann defines as the "science of simplicity and complexity."

Mandel reminded us of MURRAY GELL-MANN 's statement:
"Today the network of relationships linking the human race to itself and to the rest of the biosphere is so complex that all aspects affect all others to an extraordinary degree. Someone should be studying the whole system, however
crudely that has to be done, because no gluing together of partial studies of a complex nonlinear system can give a good idea of the behavoir of the whole

Markus Schwaninger added that the Primer has been actively involved with ascertaining what general models we do have and repeated the standing invitation to all members to become involved with the program.

Helmut Burkhardt suggested that some consideration be given to "System is like a FAMILY" as a working definition



Panel Session on the Future of System Publications

Chair: J. P. van Gigch
Participants: J. G. Miller, Founding Editor, Behavioral Science
M. C. Jackson, Editor-in-Chief, Systems Research and Behavioral Science
Tracy Lane and Jennifer Wilby, Editors, Systems Yearbooks.
R. Flood, Editor-in-Chief, Systems Practice and Action Research.
G. A. Swanson, President ISSS.

The Chair, J. P. van Gigch, made a short presentation outlining the increase in the number of system journals in the last ten years. He emphasized his concern to maintain the quality of what is published in that it reflects upon the standing of the ISSS vis-a-vis other scientific disciplines who promote competing journals. To start the discussion, the members of the panel made a short
presentation about the status of their respective journal. Afterwards, the discussion of the panel with the audience centered on
the following issues:

* approaches on how to judge the quality of articles which are submitted to their system journals.
* the refereeing process
* standards applied to the refereeing process
* rigor of evaluation and of process of revision prior to publication.
* need to encourage younger generation of authors to promote new ideas without discouraging discourse due to overzealous format and style requirements

J. G. Miller was in favor of the need to have more rather than less system journals, although he expressed his concern at the difficulty of finding good reliable referees. R. Flood said that Systems Practice is concentrating its audience on practitioners and that Systems Practice & Action Research was oriented toward implementation of system ideas. M. Jackson expressed satisfaction of bringing Behavioral Science and Systems Research together, in that their conjunction is making the merged journal better and stronger than the two journals working separately. He also was satisfied of having Wiley as the publisher of the merged journal.

J. Wilby and T. Lane made a few remarks about the Yearbooks which are also being published by Wiley as a special issue of SR&BS. Problems of backlog and back issues have been resolved. The audience expressed their appreciation to G. A. Swanson for arranging the ISSS Annual Meeting Proceedings on CD-ROM. The staff of the Mechanical Engineering epartment at Georgia Institute of Technology are owed a great deal of credit and thanks for their contribution in this regard.

The discussion also encompassed a consideration of future electronic publications of the society.

Summarized by JPvG



"I am in this session because I am very concerned by the present state of our Society.

I would define as follows a short "shopping list":

- Propagate efficiently systems thinking wherever anyone of our members finds him/herself in position to do it
- Divulgate systems thinking in a way clearly understandable by practical managers of all kinds of organizations
- and also generally for John and Jane Citizen.
- Produce informative material through any available means.
- Apply systems thinking to practical issues at any level, from local communities to global organizations, from local problems to global issues (or messes!)
"In order to achieve these aims, I very well understand that we need means, much more important and powerful than the present ones.
So, I propose you a second shopping list:
- Create a small permanent organizational structure able to effectively promote practical activities and projects.
- Make - here and just now - a list of people who compromize themselves to some practical action.
- Look actively for some sponsors. Who, here and now, would promise to contact some rich and intelligent friend who could offer some 10 or 20 thousand dollars yearly to the Society? (Believe it or not, there is a M. Edgard Wilson of Lexington, KY, who offers an annual award of $ 20.000 to an amateur astronomer who discovers a comet (Circ. nr. 6936 of the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams of the Smithsonian Institute)
- Connect the ISSS with some powerful Society whose aims are practically and socially oriented and to which we could act as "counsellors in complex issues". One could be the Rotary, who already showed interest in the "Population and Development" issues, for ex.(Glasgow Convention - June 18th., 1997), or the Lions Club. Both are multidisciplinary and international.

"As I personally believe much more in doers than in speakers, my co-chairman and myself will now anxiously await your proposals. Prof. Bhola will act as a moderator and we would need one or two of you to take precise notes on the proposals and the identity of the proposers.

"We plan to make a synthetic abstract of the result of this meeting and hope to have it in print before the end of this Conference, for distribution.

"Somebody should also be nominated to secure the follow up of this revival process. Ideally this person should live in North America, which is still the hub of this world." (End)

G.A. proposed to create a basic fund of information about Systemics, that could be recomended by the Society to any person or institution interested in the subject, e.g.:

- A selected list of the five most basic works on Systems and Cybernetics, to be established by Franáois

- A sheet about "Hierarchy Theory" by T.F.H.Allen

- A key summary by Peter Corning on his work

- A similar summary by Len Troncale, and another by Lane Tracy

According to G.A., we could possibly in this way interest some publisher to start a series on Systemics. Allen seconded this idea. So did also Tom, who proposed to add the summary or index of the listed books. Corning proposed to add some summaries on basic works, as for ex. "Living Systems". He also said that the list should be posted on the ISSS website. I proposed to create a network of possible teachers of tutorials in Systems and Cybernetics, who should make themselves available on specific times (This is done yearly by the Sigma Chi fraternity which publishes the list in the "American Scientist").

I contributed: 1. A list of the most basic books in English, including: - the five most basic ones - the next five most important ones - a complementary list of 28 other significant books

2. A list of some Systemic references in foreign languages: - 7 in German; 8 in French; 4 in Spanish.

Photocopies of the list were made and some people carried them to their country, as Young Pil Rhee of Korea and Latorre of Colombia. I will send separately the list to Tom, for possible incorporation into the Primer, if he find it convenient (repeated hereafter to you for any use you see fit).

I am planning other basic lists as for example: Some books on more specialized aspects of Systems: Hierarchy theory - Ecology in systemic terms - Computer models of complex systems - Biology - Management - Mathematical models: Chaos, Catastrophes, Graphs, Fractals, etc... The considerable bibliography in my Encyclopedia could also possible be put on the Primer. But this is probably already excessive: We should avoid cluttering with unessentials.

Getting back to the Institutional meeting, One of my proposals, particularly, seemed to me very important: I suggested that any member who is a professor in some College or University would try to explore outside his/her own Department or Faculty in order to discover some colleagues who could be interested in complex issues in a transdisciplinarian way. If some could be found, a small study group could be created and:

- A tutorial offered

- A practical problem put to consideration in systemic terms (big or small; economic or social or technical, or whatever; local, regional or global)

- Some conclusions offered to a central office of the Society for diffusion among other groups of the same type, and the members in general. I hoped in this way to obtain the adhesion of at least some people during the Conference and a promise to really apply this program.



This summary was compiled by Timothy F. Allen


The Hierarchy theory is a dialect of general systems theory.

It has emerged as part of a movement toward a general science of complexity. Rooted in the work of economist, Herbert Simon, chemist, Ilya Prigogine, and psychologist, Jean Piaget, hierarchy theory focuses upon levels of organization and issues of scale. There is significant emphasis upon the observer in the system. Hierarchies occur in social systems, biological structures, and in the biological taxonomies.

Since scholars and laypersons use hierarchy and hierarchical concepts commonly, it would seem reasonable to have a theory of hierarchies. Hierarchy theory uses a relatively small set of principles to keep track of the complex structure and a behavior of systems with multiple levels. A set of definitions and principles follows immediately: Hierarchy: in mathematical terms, it is a partially ordered set. In less austere terms, a hierarchy is a collection of parts with ordered asymmetric relationships inside a whole. That is to say, upper levels are above lower levels, and the relationship upwards is asymmetric with the relationships downwards.

Hierarchical levels: levels are populated by entities whose properties characterize the level in question. A given entity may belong to any number of levels, depending on the criteria used to link levels above and below. For example, an individual human being may be a member of the level i) human, ii) primate, iii) organism or iv) host of a parasite, depending on the relationship of the level in question to those above and below. Level of organization: this type of level fits into its hierarchy by virtue of set of definitions that lock the level in question to those above and below. For example, a biological population level is an aggregate of entities from the organism level of organization, but it is only so by definition. There is no particular scale involved in the population level of organization in that some organisms are larger than some populations, as in the case of skin parasites. Level of observation: this type of level fits into its hierarchy by virtue of relative scaling considerations. For example, the host of a skin parasite represents the context for the population of parasites, it is a landscape, even though the host may be seen as belonging to a level of organization, organism, that is lower than the collection or parasites, population.

The criterion for observation: when a system is observed, there are two separate considerations. One is the spatiotemporal scale at which the observations are made. The other is the criterion for observation, which defines the system in the foreground away from all the rest in the background. The criterion for observation uses the types of parts and their relationships to each other to characterize the system in the foreground. If criteria for observation are linked together in an asymmetric fashion, then the criteria lead to levels of organization. Otherwise, criteria for observation merely generate isolated classes. The ordering of levels: there are several criteria whereby other levels reside above lower levels. These criteria often run in parallel, but sometimes only one or a few of them apply. Upper levels are above lower levels by virtue of: 1) being the context of, 2) offering constraint to, 3) behaving more slowly at a lower frequency than, 4) being populated by entities with greater integrity and higher bond strength than, and 5), containing and being made of - lower levels.

Nested and non-nested hierarchies: nested hierarchies involve levels which consist of, and contain, lower levels. Non-nested hierarchies are more general in that the requirement of containment of lower levels is relaxed. For example, an army consists of a collection of soldiers and is made up of them. Thus an army is a nested hierarchy. On the other hand, the general at the top of a military command does not consist of his soldiers and so the military command is a non-nested hierarchy with regard to the soldiers in the army. Pecking orders and a food chains are also non-nested hierarchies.

Duality in hierarchies: the dualism in hierarchies appears to come from a set of complementarities that line up with: observer-observed, process-structure, rate-dependent versus rate-independent, and part-whole. Arthur Koestler in his "Ghost in The Machine" referred to the notion of holon, which means an entity in a hierarchy that is at once a whole and at the same time a part. Thus a holon at once operates as a quasi-autonomous whole that integrates its parts, while working to integrate itself into an upper level purpose or role. The lower level answers the question "How?" and the upper level answers the question, "So what?"

Constraint versus possibilities: when one looks at a system there are two separate reasons behind what one sees. First, it is not possible to see something if of the parts of the system cannot do what is required of them to achieve the arrangement in the whole. These are the limits of physical possibility. The limits of possibility come from lower levels in the hierarchy. The second entirely separate reason for what one sees is to do with what is allowed by the upper level constraints. An example here would be that mammals have five digits. There is no physical reason for mammals having five digits on their hands and feet, because it comes not from physical limits, but from the constraints of having a mammal heritage. Any number of the digits is possible within the physical limits, but in mammals only five digits are allowed by the biological constraints. Constraints come from above, while the limits as to what is possible come from below. The concept of hierarchy becomes confused unless one makes the distinction between limits from below and limits from above. The distinction between mechanisms below and purposes above turn on the issue of constraint versus possibility. Forget the distinction, and biology becomes pointlessly confused, impossibly complicated chemistry, while chemistry becomes unwieldy physics.

Complexity and self-simplification: Howard Pattee has identified that as a system becomes more elaborately hierarchical its behavior becomes simple. The reason is that, with the emergence of intermediate levels, the lowest level entities become constrained to be far from equilibrium. As a result, the lowest level entities lose degrees of freedom and are held against the upper level constraint to give constant behavior. Deep hierarchical structure indicates elaborate organization, and deep hierarchies are often considered as complex systems by virtue of hierarchical depth.

Complexity versus complicatedness: a hierarchical structure with a large number of lowest level entities, but with simple organization, offers a low flat hierarchy that is complicated rather than complex. The behavior of structurally complicated systems is behaviorally elaborate and so complicated, whereas the behavior of deep hierarchically complex systems is simple.

Hierarchy theory is as much as anything a theory of observation. It has been significantly operationalized in ecology, but has been applied relatively infrequently outside that science. There is a negative reaction to hierarchy theory in the social sciences, by virtue of implications of rigid autocratic systems or authority. When applied in a more general fashion, even liberal and non-authoritarian systems can be described effectively in hierarchical terms. There is a politically correct set of labels that avoid the word hierarchy, but they unnecessarily introduced jargon into a field that has enough special vocabulary as it is.


This bibliography is in chronological order, so that the reader can identify the early classics as opposed to the later refinements. If you must choose just one book to read, turn to the last reference in this bibliography,

Ahl and Allen, 1996. Simon, H.. A. 1962. The architecture of complexity. Proceedings of the American philosophical society 106: 467-82. This is the foundation paper of hierarchy theory originating from an economist. It was a re-published in "Sciences of the Artificial" by Simon. It introduces the idea of near-decomposability. If systems were completely decomposable, then there would be no emergent whole because the parts would exist only separately. The "near" in near-decomposable allows the upper level to emerge from the fact that the parts anre not completely separate.

Koestler, Arthur. 1967. The ghost in the machine. Macmillan, New York. This is a long hard look at human social structure in hierarchical terms. The notion of holon first occurs in this work. This is a classic work, but is easily accessible to the lay public.

Whyte, L.. L.., A. G. Wilson and D. Wilson (eds.). 1969. Hierarchical structures. American Elsevier, New York. This is a classic collection of early scholarly works by some of the founders of hierarchical thinking.

Pattee, H.. H. (ed.) 1973. Hierarchy theory: the challenge or complex systems. Braziller, New York. This edited volume has some classic articles by Pattee, Simon and others.

Allen, T. F. H. and T. B. Starr. 1982. Hierarchy: perspectives for ecological complexity. University Chicago Press. This book has a significant ecological component but is much more generally about hierarchical structure. It is abstract and a somewhat technical treatment but has been the foundation work for the application of hierarchy theory in ecology and complex systems theory at large.

Salthe, S. 1985. Evolving Hierarchical Systems: their structure and representation. Columbia University Press, New York. This book has a strong structural bias, in contrast to the process oriented approach of Allen and the other ecologists in this bibliography. Salthe introduces the notion of the Triadic, where there is a focus on 1) the system as both a whole above the levels below and 2) a part belonging to another level above, 3) not forgetting the level of the structure itself in between. While much biological hierarchy theory takes an anti-realist point view, or is at least reality-agnostic, wherein the ultimate reality of hierarchical arrangement is left moot, Salthe's version of hierarchy theory is concerned with the ultimate reality of structure. The anti-realist view of structure is that it is imposed by the observer, and may or may not correspond to any ultimate reality. If structure does correspond to ultimate, external reality, we could never know that to be so. Salthe's logic is consistent but always takes a structural and ontological position.

O'Neill, R. V., D. DeAngelis, J. Waide and T. F. H. Allen. 1986. A hierarchical concept of ecosystems. Princeton University Press. This is a distinctly ecological application of hierarchy theory, making the critical distinction between process functional ecosystem approaches as opposed to population and community relationships. It is an application of hierarchy theory to ecosystem analysis.

Allen T. F. H. and T. Hoekstra. 1992. Toward a unified ecology. Columbia University Press. This book turns on hierarchy theory, but is principally a book about ecology. It goes beyond the O'Neill et al book, in that it makes the distinction between many types of ecology (landscape, ecosystem, community, organism, population, and biomes) on the one hand, and scale of ecology on the other hand. It ends with practical applications of hierarchy theory and ecological management.

Ahl, V. and T. F. H. Allen. 1996. Hierarchy theory, a vision, vocabulary and epistemology. Columbia University Press. This slim a volume is an interdisciplinary account of a hierarchy theory, and represents the shallow end of the pool. It is the primer version of Allen and Starr 1982. It is full of graphical images to ease the reader into a hierarchical perspective. It makes the distinction between levels of organization and levels of observation. It takes a moderate anti-realist point of view, wherein there may be an external reality, but it is not relevant to the discourse. We only have access to experience, which must of necessity involve observer values and subjectivity. There are examples from a wide discussion of many disciplines. Included are examples from psychology, ecology, the law, political systems and philosophy. It makes reference to the global and technological problems facing humanity, and offers hierarchy theory as one tool in the struggle.

The summary of hierarchy theory in the opening paragraphs above comes from this book.

This summary was compiled by

Timothy F. Allen,
Professor Botany
University of Wisconsin Madison,
Madison Wisconsin 53706 -- 1381.
Email - tfallen@facstaff.wisc.edu




Mandel, Thomas; Meta-Perspectualism and Perspectualism The Four Winds: 3077

Bela H Banathy proposed the systems view is like a "lens"

von Bertalanffy said the systems view is a perspectual view.

von Bertalanffy proposed the domains of Theory, methodology and philosophy. This has been adapted by Banathy and the Primer group and re-stated as philosophy, theory, methodology and application.

Hal Linstone proposed a multi-perspectual viewpoint coming from the three field-observed-views of Technical (T), Organizational (O) and Personal (P) or TOP all, of course, interrelated into an intergral whole

At the same time, Zinchang Zhu proposes an Eastern version described as the li of Wu or matter, the li of Shi or relations and the li of Ren or persons, all of them acting together as an interal whole.

The coincidence of these nearly identical but independantly conceived views occuring on opposites sides of the globe testifies to the value of both views.

J. Bennett proposes a look at systems in numerical terms. He begins with one having the quality of universality. Two then is contrastive. Three is dynamic, and four is action.

This made an impression on me because I had alwys thought that dualism was "wrong" now I see it as just the dualistic viewpoint. Now I can see how all thought systems are not either right or wrong, but that they are different perspectives, each having intrinsic value, and limitations.

Buckminster Fuller states that "four" is the minimum of points required to create a three dimensional figure - the tetrahedron. A. Judge talks about the archtypal qualities of fourness, and cites Jung.

Thus a system can be a monad (a system without consideration of the internal relationships) or it can a whole. This new whole occurs at the fourth level.

Four is also the basis of the North American Indian "Medicine wheel" which involves the four directions and up and down and inside as well.

Geometrically, all of the above can be understood in terms of a model using basic geometrical concepts. Imagine a space with nothing in it. A blank piece of paper. We could call that zero state. Now imagine a point somewhere on the sheet of space. Emerging from the nothing is a location. Imagine another point, and the emergent now is distance - a line. By adding another point, we achieve an area. Adding the fourth point requoires us to leave our piece of paper and insert it above the three so that we now have an emergent called volume.



Elaine R. Parent, Ph.D.

P.O. Box 12214

LaJolla, California 92093


The model described here is viewed as an extension and elaboration of a growing emphasis on person-environment interaction in academic psychology. In accounting for stability and/or change, focus is frequently on the interaction between certain characteristics or variables in either the person and/or the environment. The potential advantage of a systems approach in permitting a holistic or 'big picture' of human experience, in space and over time is considered.

Described is a new metaframework for understanding the dynamics of human experience, on both an individual and group level. It builds on the traditional living systems model of input-throughput-output. Information exchange and interaction via material-energy flows, between each person and his or her personally-experienced (or subjective ) world, is viewed as a micro-system, a subsystem of a larger person-environment system.

The conceptual model emphasizes the importance of information feedback and feedforward processes in influencing the pattern in how, as individuals and as members of social-cultural groups, we live our everyday lives. The results of both positive and negative information feedback (about what has already happened) and information feedforward (about what one wants to happen) are reflected in the decisions we make about how to channel our life energy flows. These include the physical energy invested in sensori motor and motor activity, in mental energy reflected in perception, cognition and memory, and in the emotional energy we represent as feelings. Other systems concepts and principles are relevant: system boundaries, system balance and equilibrium, the importance of goal-direction and evolutionary change.

The conceptual model focuses on the individual's subjective perception of the meaning of his/her day-to-day experience. It is the personal meaning - - the results of our individual interpretive processes, that determine how we channel our life energy flows. In the study of groups, particularly in cognitive anthropology, attention is focused on those shared meanings that reflect cultural norms and prescriptions.



Elaine R. Parent, Ph.D.

Box 12214 LaJolla, California 92039


In an accompanying abstract, a new metaframework for viewing the dynamics of human experience is described. Outlined here is the structure of an educational model, based on those same living systems principles, for individuals to use in getting 'the big picture' of how they are living their everyday lives. Becoming aware of the patterned relationships between their cognition, emotion and actions is a necessary precursor for life planning and personal change.

Educational strategies focus on helping individuals develop their unique metacognitive skills, to learn about how as an individual, unique 'information processor and meaning-make' they "work." It includes becoming actively aware of the role of information feedback (about what has happened) and information feedforward (about what one wants to happen) in determining the decisions they make. This determines the behavior (thinking feeling, and acting) that follows. Increasing their awareness of their self-talk (or information feedbforward activities) is an important first-step in this process.

A number of metaphors help readers translate abstract systems ideas and principles into everyday language: Life as a Game, the importance of developing a Personal Game Plan, the role played by our individual Personal Meaning System. Focus is on the rules, personal and social, which determine how we play our 'game' in the three theaters (or subsystems) of human activity - the physical world, the social world and our unique, individual psychological world.

The conceptual model accommodates individual differences in abilities, aptitudes, and prior experience, as well as the unique way we each represent them mentally. It accommodates research activity into both the idiographic and nomothetic aspects of human experience. The model has potential as a unifying metaframework for all areas of psychology by directly accounting for person-environment interaction.

A SYSTEMS APPROACH IN BIOLOGY AND BIOPHYSICS Savely Savva, M.S. Monterey Institute for the Study of Alternative Healing Arts (MISAHA) Ph./Fax 408-625-9617; E-mail: misaha@aol.com

Somewhere between the specific that has no meaning and the general that has no content there must be,
for each purpose and each level of abstraction, an optimum degree of generality.
K. Boulding, one of the founders of the General Systems Theory.

Biologists, biophysicists and medical scientists, when encountering phenomena of life and consciousness that do not fit into the current mechanistic paradigm, try to find alternative heuristic approaches to resolve the unsettling situation. Thus ten biologists and physicists presented their views on the relevance of energy and information to mind-body medicine and biology in general in a recent issue of Advances (Vol.13, #4, 1997), the journal of the John Fetzer Institute, one of the few foundations capable of financing unconventional studies in biology and medicine. As K. Klivington put it in his summarizing article, “We clearly did not wind up with a new textbook on the subject (certainly it was not our aim), but we did receive some imaginative speculations on how to do a better job in thinking about the issue at hand.”

I found it interesting that there is a general consensus among the participants that the current medical model as well as the concepts of life and consciousness are inadequate. There is a general feeling that the knowledge of the information flows in organisms is essential for understanding life, health and disease (“Disease is essentially an information disorder” P. Bellavite), although some authors believe that only semantic information, i.e., the meaning transferred, is relevant to life (T. Staiger, J. Hoffmeyer). The majority of authors would agree that the DNA of a genome cannot carry all the information necessary for embryogenesis, but none of the participants would refer to the concept of bioinformation or morphogenetic field that has a long history. Perhaps, it sounds more scientific to refer to “the unmanifest structure of the vacuum sea” reflecting “the whole ontogenetic and phylogenetic past” of an organism (M. Conrad), or to a “macrohistorical process” that is embedded in the “extremely complex architecture of the cytoskeleton, which is itself copied from its parent cells in an unfinished chain arching back to the beginning of eukaryotic life on this planet” (J. Hoffmeyer), or to “Quantum vitalism” — “macroscopic quantum state” that “can solve the problems of protein shape, differentiation, and ‘unitary oneness’ in living systems” (S. Hameroff). Only one author (P. Bellavite) explicitly supports the old vitalistic concept, but he rejects a cybernetic approach and the vital importance of a general control function. “It is difficult to say whether there is a ‘conductor’ (he compares organism with a performing orchestra), because all parts, including the brain, function properly, influencing one another reciprocally.”

The following are my considerations as to how to bring biology and medicine closer to the methodology of physics, and bring physics closer to the comprehension of life and the mind as physical realities of our universe in a systemic approach. This ambitious task by necessity cuts across multiple scientific disciplines with mountains of literature in each of them that by no means could be reviewed by one individual. At the same time, a general concept cannot be built from within one discipline. I see myself in a position of an engineer, which I actually am, who set his mind to solve a very practical problem: how to experimentally outline the control system of an organism.

Basically, I propose the following:

1. Information plays an increasingly important role in the physical description of the complex systems’ dynamics. However, parapsychological studies revealed very peculiar properties of information transfer processes that may be relevant to the understanding of life and consciousness.

2. The meaning or the semantic information is relevant only for mind-possessing organisms. Therefore, I propose functional definitions of the mind and consciousness as adaptational mechanisms in the biological evolution. 3. The majority of visceral processes in any organism (including that of humans) are automatically controlled. Accordingly, organisms can be perceived as complex automata and described by a cybernetic model. However, organisms’ control systems include a complex bioinformation field component that may play the coordinating role for somatic control subsystems. The physical nature of this bioinformation field is as yet unknown. 4. Delineating and mapping the organism’s control system, its structure and function, is a task of a tremendous practical (for medicine) and scientific importance. The practical way to do this is by simultaneously studying responses of all control systems and subsystems to internal disruptions and ambient interventions including psi healing (which is the direct bioinformation field interaction) as well as to changes in patients' mind set.




ISSS members are invited to share their notes or abstracts if notes are not available on this page. Please send to thommandel@aol.com