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The development of the integrative systems model is traced by Bertalanffy to the 1600's in the binary numbering system of G.W. von Leibniz and the Coincidentia Oppositorum model by Nicholas of Cusa. System principles can be traced even further back, to Aristotle's “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” and even the I Ching and Yin/Yang. It can be perceived in Lao Tzu's Harmony of opposites; Heraclitus' Epistemology of Fluxation & unified opposites; the Water/Air/Fire/Earth philosophy of Epedocleus; Spinoza's Philosophy of the whole; Bergson's Process and in particular Needham & Woodger's organizing relations, and many others. The mathematics of complex systems, greatly aided by advances made possible by the computer, has emerged as complexity science. Systems theory compares, in mathematics, to Category Theory.


Modern systems theory emerged on two complementary fronts: Systems Theory and Cybernetics.

Cybernetics arose parallel to systems theory mainly through the work of mathematician Norbert Wiener. During World War 11, Norbert Wiener was called on to resolve the technical problem of matching aircraft velocity with anti-aircraft shell velocity. Recognizing the advantages of looking at all sides of the problem, he went on to formulate Cybernetics, a science of control and information,with an emphasis on the particular relationship of feedback, during the Macy conferences. Systems theory and cybernetics are closely related to eachother.


Operations Research became famous when it worked out an optimal size for convoys transversing the seas during WW2. It can be traced back to British achievements learned while maintaining world-wide colonys. Early system research began as Operations Research and Systems Analysis. Operations Research (O.R.)is defined broadly by St. Beer, “Operations research is the attack of of modern science on complex problems arising in the direction and management of enterprises.” R. Ackoff describes O.R as a methodology beginning with an analysis of desired outcomes and objectives of the organization. Using tools such as linear programming and computer simulations, theories such as allocation, queuing, sequencing, routing, replacement, competitive and search theories, models depicting behavior and performance are equated to functions under management control. Recent advances such as chaos theory has shown prediction can never be accurate and attempts to further this field of research led to little more than mathematical modeling, arguably what it was intended for in the first place. <ref>Francois C (1997) Editor; International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics: K.G.Saur (p. 252)ISBN 3-598-11357-9</ref>

In the sixties considerable effort was made to transfer principles to the social domain. Further developments emerged in the work of Andrew Sage and Arthur Hall. When “hard” systems approaches failed to achieve goals in the social domain, “soft” systems emerged with Peter Checkland's Soft System Methodology (SSM) which was enhanced by Jackson's Critical Systems, Ulrich's Critical Heuristics and Flood's Total Systems Intervention.


Following World War 2, systems engineering was developed to address the design, implementation and operation of large, complex technical systems. Along with it's sister disciplines: systems analysis and operations research, systems engineering flourished during the 50's and 60's. While it served well as a unitary problem solving tool where objectives and procedures are well defined and easy to agree on, management science and system thinking communities characterized it in the 70's as a hard systems approach because it derived its epistemological base from the hard sciences. Systems engineering emphasis is on the achievement of objectively stated goals related to the delivery of technical products appropriate for solving mechanical-unitary problems.

In the past decade, systems engineering had found system theory principles useful and has incorporated them into it's own methodologies. For now the systems engineer is interested not only in the components making up his focus of interest, he is also interested in the end user and how it performs in the field. Systems engineering thus calls on systemic principles in order to broaden the scope or scale of its action. Currently (Sage 2006) systems engineering includes the technical systems; their interaction with the human and environmental stakeholders; the systems that support the users' use of the systems, the enabling systems; and the organizations doing the development work, the process systems. From Systems Research and Behavioral Science Sys.Res. 24, 169-181 (2007) Re-evaluating Systems Engineering as a Framework for Tackling Systems Issues Stephan C. Cook and Timothy L.J. Ferris Centre of Excellence in Defence and Industry Systems Capabilities, University of South Australia and Systems Engineering and Evaluation Centre, University of South Australia

Page 175-176

  "Whilst we acknowledge that from this early philosophy that Jackson and Keys (1984) made a fair assessment of systems engineering, Hutchins nonetheless goes on to say that systems engineering is fundamentally holistic as indicated by the:

Existence of the concept of CONOPS concerning the entire mission. Development of an overall design which addresses the whole of the CONOPS, prior to the decompositiuon of the whole into components which together achieve the whole. Review of the project from the viwpoint of effectiveness of meeting the objectives of the whole and integration of the parts followed by evaluation of the effectiveness of the whole.“ ….

Another substantial shaper of the framework of ideas for systems engineering is the ideology of systems thinking as expressed in several systems related disciplines, each of which takes a different perspective on systems issues. Systems thinking is concerned with the conscious use of the concept of wholeness when considering an entity. that is a system, that exhibits properties that are greater than the sum of the components. It is the antithesis of Descartes reductionism, the mainstay of the scientific community: the technique of breaking down problems into their components and analyzing them through deliberate isolation from the whole of their context. While it is recognized that the reductionistic approach has value in relatively simple systems, it is incapable of examining the way properties for which most designed systems are constructed: the emergent properties that are only observable at a whole system level. Specifically the scientific method, as commonly presented, is concerned with investigation of abstracted properties of entities and des not cope well with complexity, real-word problems and social phenomenon. The fundamental problem is that the reductionistic approach investigates the properties of the elements that are assembled into a system, rather than the properties of the whole assemblage of the system. This is problematic because assembly of a number of elements into a system creates interactions of elements which result in system behaviours of the elements.”

Page 176-177 “It is noteworthy that the systems engineering literature is increasingly using concepts from systems thinking to underpin its teaching and practice (Hitchins, 1992, 2003; Aslaksen 1996;Sydenham, 2004; Cook, 2005) and systems engineers are becoming increasing familiar with ideas such as emergence, holism, boundaries judgements and connectedness. In part this realization has developed through the more recent development of understanding of the system engineering task as concerning systems demanding a considerable embedding of a technical product into a social situation, demanding a greater degree of socio-technical integration of product systems than was previously necessary,”

page 179 We argue that the attribute s of individual problems-of-interest (POI) within systems engineering can be used to select the methodologies, and thus to call into action the frameworks of ideas associated with those methodologies, that would be most useful for tackling the POI. From this it can be seen that really systems engineering is a transdisciplinary metamethodology because many methodologies can and are applied concurrently to address goals. In this way, systems engineering is analogous to Total Systems Intervention (Flood and Jackson, 1991b) and yet also should be recognized within the Total Systems Intervention framework as the appropriate methodology to address issues in any category sector of the matrix where it is anticipated that the solution is likely to involve design of something involving a substantial amount of technology. In turn, systems engineering includes the insight-eliciting methods of systems thinking, and uses them to address issues in a manner guided by the Total Systems Intervention framework.“

” We conclude that systems engineering is now recognized as a field which can and must address issues in both the simple and complex categories and where unitary, pluralist and coercive perspectives are found, and that to address these issues, systems engineering calls upon the whole range of insight-gaining and systemic intervention methodologies developed through the broader systems movement.

In the research paper published in the IFSR journal: Systems Research Behavior Science, Cook and Ferris argue, “…that, as such, systems engineering is an appropriate methodology for any problem situation where the solution can be expected to involve a substantial technical component.” They contend that systems engineering is really a transdisciplinary metamethodology because of the use of many methodologies. They also believe that Systems engineering “…should be recognized within the Total Systems Intervention framework as the appropriate methodology to address issues in any category sector of the matrix. where it is anticipated that the solution is likely to involve design of something involving a substantial amount of technology. In turn systems engineering includes the insight-eliciting methods of systems thinking, and uses them to address issues in a manner guided by the Total Systems Intervention framework.” <ref>Cook, Stephen C. and Ferris, Timothy L.J. (2007) Re-evaluating Systems Engineering as a Framework for Tackling Systems Issues. Systems Research and Behavior Science; John Wiley & Sons (169-181)</ref>


System Dynamics originated at MIT by Jay Forrester as an attempt to explain production fluctuations resulting from business cycles. A business cycle such as the Christmas buying season sets off cycles due to a lag in information from retail stores to distributors to manufacturing plants.

In a study entitled World Dynamics, Forrester developed a model called World2 which integrated the study of populatiohn, resources and pollution, which previously were studied in isolation. This led to an overview titled The Limits to Growth which was translated into many languages. As a result modeling techniques sprang up in countries round the world. In 1982 Donella Meadows, John Richardson and Gerhart Bruckmann published the book Groping in the Dark, the title referencing to the well known joke about a drunk looking for his keys under a light because that is the only place he could see. <ref>Umpleby, Stuart A. and Dent, Eric B.. (1999) The origins and purposes of Several Traditions in Systems Thoery and Cybernetics.Cybernetics and Systems: An International Journal, 30: 79-103 </ref>

Briefly, system dynamics methodology:: *identifies a problem, *develops a dynamic hypothesis explaining the cause of the problem, *builds a computer simulation model of the system at the root of the problem, *tests the model to be certain that it reproduces the behavior seen in the real world, *devises and tests in the model alternative policies that alleviate the problem, and *implements this solution.


“By definition, living systems are open, self-organizing systems that have the special characteristics of life and interact with their environment. This takes place by means of information and material-energy exchanges.” [3]

The Living Systems Theory of James Grier Miller is described as an open system characterized by information and material flows. The properties ( or behavior) of a system as a whole emerge out of the interaction of the components comprising the system.

In the conceptual system developed by Miller, living systems form eight levels of organization and complexity:

The principal components are cells, in simple, multi-cellular systems; organs, which are groups of cells; organisms (there are three kinds of organisms: fungi, plants and animals); groups, which contain two or more organisms and their relationships; organizations, which involve one of more groups with their own control systems for doing work; communities, including both individual persons and groups; societies, which are loose associations of communities; and supranational systems, organizations of societies.

Regardless of their complexity, they each depend upon the same essential twenty subsystems (or processes) to survive and to continue the propagation of their species or types beyond a single generation. “The twenty subsystems that process information or material-energy or both account for the survival of living systems, at any level.” “Living Systems Theory is a general theory about how all living systems “work,” about how they maintain themselves and how they develop and change [4]


By definition a simple system is a complex. Complexity is inherant in any system at least in principle. Complexity science, aided by the computer, emerged to study the mathematics of nonlinear dynamical systems.


Ludwug von Bertalanffy defined a system philosophically as “elements in standing interrelationship.” Systemists explain that the interactive relationships of the elements are emergent relationships and subsequently form a new emergent whole. This whole system may have properties which are not found in the elements when taken in isolation. An example often used by systemists is the wetness of water that cannot be found in the elemental gases of Oxygen and Hydrogen which make up the water.

Systemics/systems theory differs from classical science in that the reductionist tool of science places emphasis on the component or object and their relations. It is a science about taking things apart. While the systems view, without invalidating the knowledge about the thing, considers, as a complementary, what those things are doing together or how they work together. It is the working together of the mutual relationships which transcend the elements becoming an emergent whole. As in the case of water, our experience of these relationships is our experience of the whole. Without exception we do not taste the poisonous sodium or chorine in the salt we sprinkle on our food. Nor is it likely that the meaning of these words will be found in the black or white they are formed from.

In addition to this foundational definition, systemics made significant movements in three major directions. One is that the system is in a relationship with the environment, also known as the open system. The second, formulated formally in the philosophy of Second Order Cybernetics, acknowledges the crucial role the observer plays in forming a complete description of the system/environment. The third is the ontological change from a language of nouns (objects) to the language of verbs (Process).Therefore it is essential that all perspectives be included or “swept in” to form the whole.

The late Bela H. Banathy contributed extensively to the knowledge base of systems theory, human activity systems (HAS) in particular. His role was that of an educator, having taught Boy scouts, North American Indians and Phd's. Professor Banathy wrote, “In contrast with the analytical, reductionist, and linear-causal paradigm of classical science, systems philosophy brings forth a reorientation of thought and world view, manifested by an expansionist, non- linear dynamic, and synthetic mode of thinking….Traditional science was unable and unwilling to consider Purpose and Meaning which, in the emerging view of disciplined inquiry, has a guiding role. And where dominance once was the purpose, there is now a search for establishing a grand Alliance of science, philosophy, art, and religion.” <!–<ref></ref>–>

GENESIS OF THE SYSTEMS MOVEMENT The beginning of systems science and the goals of that movement as a science in service to humanity is explained by the late Bela H, Banathy. a co-founder of IFSR and considered by the systems community as a significant educator of systems theory.

“At this point it seems to be appropriate to tell the story that marks the genesis of the systems movement. Kenneth Boulding told this story at the occasion when I was privileged to present to him the distinguished scholarship award of the Society of General Systems Research at our 1983 Annual Meeting, the year was 1954. At the Center for Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, four Center fellows - Bertalanffy (biology), Boulding (economics), Gerard (psychology), and Rapaport (mathematics) –had a discussion in a meeting room. Another Center fellow walked in and asked: “What going on here” Ken answered, “We are angered about the state of the human condition and ask:” What can we do – what can science – do about improving the human condition?” “Oh!” their visitor said, “That is not my field. . . .’

“At that meeting the four scientists felt that in the statement of their visitor they heard the statement of the fragmented disciplines that have little concern for doing anything practical about the fate of humanity. So, they asked themselves, “What would happen if science would be redefined by crossing disciplinary boundaries and forge a general theory that would bring us together in the service of humanity?”

“Later they went to Berkeley, to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and established the society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory. Throughout the years, many of us in the systems movement have continued to ask the question: “How can systems science serve humanity?”

And thus, in 1954, at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard, and Anatol Rapoport established systems theory as a scientific methodology to become a science dedicated to the service of humanity.[2] In collaboration with James Grier Miller, the Society for General Systems Research (SGSR) was formed in 1956 as an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. SGSR was renamed the International Society for the System Sciences (ISSS) in 1988. Adherents today often find home for their ideas and research within the national and international societies and their respective chapters, most of which are affiliates of the International Federation for Systems Research (IFSR).


Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s book General System Theory brought together the concepts and models of organismic thought using the umbrella word ‘system‘. His book and the establishment of a research society served as the stage for the beginning of the systems movement. General systems theory is concerned with the concepts, principles, and models that are common to all kinds of systems and the isomorphisms between and among various types of systems. Bertalanffy writes, “Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Excerpted from General Systems Theory

“Modern science is characterized by its ever-increasing specialization, necessitated by the enormous amount of data, the complexity of techniques and of theoretical structures within every field. Thus science is split into innumerable disciplines continually generating new subdisciplines. In consequence, the physicist, the biologist, the psychologist and the social scientist are, so to speak, encapusulated in their private universes, and it is difficult to get word from one cocoon to the other…”

“Entities of an essentially new sort are entering the sphere of scientific thought. Classical science in its diverse disciplines, be it chemistry, biology, psychology or the social sciences, tried to isolate the elements of the observed universe - chemical compounds and enzymes, cells, elementary sensations, freely competing individuals, what not – expecting that, by putting them together again, conceptually or experimentally, the whole or system - cell, mind, society - would result and be intelligible. Now we have learned that for an understanding not only the elements but their interrelations as well are required…”

“It is necessary to study not only parts and processes in isolation, but also to solve the decisive problems found in organization and order unifying them, resulting from dynamic interaction of parts, and making the the behavoir of the parts different when studied in isolation or within the whole…”

General system theory, therefore, is a general science of “wholeness…The meaning of the somewhat mystical expression, “The whole is more that the sum of its parts” is simply that constitutive characteristics are not explanable from the characteristics of the isolated parts. The characteristics of the complex, therefore, appear as “new” or “emergent”…

We can also say: While we can conceive of a sum being composed gradually, as system as total of parts with its interrelations has to be conceived of as being composed instantly…”

“In our considerations we started with a general definition of “systems” defined as a “set of elements standing in interrelations… No special hypothesis or statement were made about the nature of the system, of its elements or the relations between them. Nevertheless from this purely formal definition of “system” many properties follow which in part are expressed in laws well-known in various fields of science, and in part concern concepts previously regarded as anthropomorphic, vitalistic. or metaphysical. The parallelism of general conceptions or even special laws in different fields therefore is a consequence of the fact that those are concerned with “systems” and that certain general principles apply to systems irrespective of their nature…

There appear to exist general system laws which apply to any system of a particular type, irrespective of the particular properties of the systems and the elements involved. Compared to the analytical procedure of classical science with resolution into component elements and one-way or linear causality as basic category, the investigation of organized wholes of many variables requires new categories of interaction, transaction, organization, teleology…”

“These considerations lead to the postulate of a new scientific discipline which we call general system theory. It’s subject matter is formulation of principles that are valid for “systems” in general, whatever the nature of the component elements and the relations or “forces” between them…”

“It seems, therefore, that a general theory of systems would be a useful tool and providing on the one hand, models that can be used in, and transferred to, different fields, and safeguarding, on the other hand, from vague analogies which often have marred the progress in these fields.” [1]

Kenneth Boulding writes in the 1968 International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, “The task of general systems theory is to find the most general conceptual framework in which a scientific theory or technological problem can be placed without losing the essential features of the theory or problem.” []

Bertalanffy writes: “There appear to exist general system laws which apply to any system of a particular type, irrespective of the particular properties of the systems and the elements involved. Compared to the analytical procedure of classical science with resolution into component elements and one-way or linear causality as basic category, the investigation of organized wholes of many variables requires new categories of interaction, transaction, organization, teleology…” []The proponents of general systems theory see in it the focal point of resynthesis of knowledge.” []

Banathy describes how systemists work with general principles -”By observing various types of systems and studying their behavior, we can recognize characteristics that are common to all systems. Once we have identified and described a set of concepts that are common to the systems, and observed and discovered among some of them certain relationships, we can construct from them General Systems Principles. Thus, a system principle emerges from an interaction/integration of related concepts. Next, we are in the position to look for relationships among principles and organize related principles into certain conceptual schemes we call Systems Models. This process of starting from observation and arriving at the construction of systems models constitutes the First Stage of developing a systems view.

GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY SKEPTICS General Systems Theory has, as Laszlo puts it, “wroth a certain amount of havoc” Skeptics claim that no success has been seen toward the development of a singular general system theory. “There ain’t no such thing!” Len Troncale stated. Instead, apologists claim, the term is being mistranslated and actually is supposed to be of a much more general concept of theories.

Nevertheless, Bertalanffy poses a crucial question on the last page of General Systems Theory (p.250) in note seven, where he asks: “Notice the theological motive in Leibniz’s invention of the binary system. It represented Creation since any number can be produced by a combination of “something” (1) and “nothing” (0). But has this antithesis metaphysical reality, or is it but an expression of linguistic habits and of the mode of action of our nervous system?”

On the other hand, many have cited the Complementary principle synergy, i.e., working together, which if taken in the philosophical sense, is a (the?)general system principle. Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau hypothesize in their book “The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory.” the hypothesis that since all physical theories have been explained in complementary terms it is reasonable to assume that all future constructs will also be complementary. <ref>Menas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau, (1990) The Conscious Universe: Part and Whole in Modern Physical Theory. Springer Verlag, New York.</ref>


Criticisms of system theory center on what practitioners have done with the theory whereas little if any criticisms concern the concept itself. Don McNeil evaluates the system movement predicament and claims there is no comprehensive theory of systems; no standard textbook of fundamentals, no definitive workbook of techiques and applications.

McNeil claims that subsequently systems theory has yet to define itself and its subject matter and has failed to establish itself as a discipline inviting charletans to preempt it’s concepts and misrepresent them.

Francois adds, “Unfortunately, there is much truth in McNeil’s indictment, even if it will be difficult - and inappropriate – to transform systems thinking or systems approach into a “discipline”. This would put it nicely in a small and segregated intellectual niche, while it really shound become the basic ground of anybody confronted with complex situations of any kind, anywhere at any time, i.e., all of us!{”


Systems philosophy/theory/thinking/action is transdisciplinary in the sense that relationships are a common story so to tell that story in any field, be it literature or atomic systems, essentially the same words may be used to describe general notions which are fleshed out within the particular discipline.

A transdisciplinary language is not a specific language taken for example from any one of the particular disciplines which then would have to be learned by everyone outside that discipline. A transdisciplinary language can use common words known by everyone, but in a special contextual way which describes those common features of various disciplines. See for example the article Systems biology in which the descriptions and terminology could be used in any discipline.

SYSTEMS PHILOSOPHY Because systems theory is concerned with principles that are general, philosophy has a crucial influence, hence systems philosophy is a guiding element of systems theory.The transdisciplanarity of systems theory is realized at the philosophical level, whereas the particular level of science is constrained by those particulars to only those particulars. Conversely, when particulars are generalized, the particularities are removed becoming by design unprovable but general.


Eberhard Umbach describes systems science as a highway with many turns off’s. Systems science was conceived in the first half of the 20th century to get beyond the limitations of the specialized sciences and the concomitant loss of overview.

The various approaches, Umbach explains, are different destinations sought-after by different advocates of systems science:

*a general concept for networking the specialized scientific disciplines for solving complex problems.

*structural similarities that transcend single disciplines,

*an approach to unite the specialized scientific languages into one overall scientific language,

*methods to construct quantified mathematical computerized models for complex problems,

*introductions to the new sciences like information science, catastrophe theory, chaos theory,

*approaches to ground holistic thinking,

*analyses and solutions for the central world problems,

*a consistent personal world view.

In general, systems science is a multidimensional field of scientific inquiry requiring inclusion of all dimensions. Systems science is also multiperspective, sweeping in all relevant perspectives. It would be a mistake to assume that systems science is limited to only what many would call “science.” Systems science sweeps in all relevant domains of information, but in as rigorous a fashion as it is done in science. Critical systems methodologies are designed to critically ascertain what is critical and what is trivial.

Umbach describes the situation as, “The pracititoners of science, by including constructivism and epistemology, would simply regognize the evident fact that science is nothing absolute, but ONE method of constructing mental images of reality and possible future realities. This method yields excellent results for investigating (= elaborating testable mental models of) interesting facts in the Universe and constructing all kinds of technology. But it is inappropriate for solving questions about complex chaotic phenomena like the future of world society or only the future of one individual. The reason for this is that a scientific mental models of chaotic phenomena must contain too many feedback loops and become to large to be handled”


A tendency or natural predisposition to think in terms of systemic relationships without necessarily drawing upon systems concepts, systems principles, or systems models. Some examples of areas that incorporate and foster such thinking include permaculture, systems biology, feminist studies, ecology, Zen and the I Ching. Systems thinking is ontologically different from elemental thinking.The subject of systems thinking is the interrelationships among the objects. But NOT in the object way. Systems thinking instead is thinking in terms of action/doing/knowing.


Ludwig von Bertalanffy outlines the inquiry of systems in three major domains: Philosophy, Science, and Technology. In his work with the Primer Group, Bela H. Banathy generalized the domains into four integrated “domains of systemic inquiry” operating recursively.

(1) ‘Philosophy‘: ontology, epistemology, and axiology of systems; If a distinction is made between philosophy and science whereas science is specific and philosophy is general, then systems theory is foundationally a philosophy. Bertalanffy says, “…i.e. the reorientation of thought and world-view ensuing from the introduction of “system” as a new scientific paradigm (in contrast to the analytic, mechanistic, one way casual paradigm of classical science.)

(2) ‘Theory‘: a set of interrelated concepts and principles applying to all systems; Includes the systems science studies, the theory of systems and as a general system theory, a doctrine of principles applying to all systems. These three, Bertalanffy explains, are “not separable in content, but distinguishable in intention.”

These integrate as ‘Knowledge‘.

(3) ‘Methodology‘: the set of models, strategies, methods, and tools that instrumentalize systems theory and philosophy; Within the systems movement, many methodologies have a problem solving approach and the methodologies are rigorous plans of action.

(4) ‘Application‘: the application and interaction of the domains. Systemists view this as putting their methodology into action. On a broader scale, it is how these principles are utilized in the field such as in the case of systems biology

These integrate as ‘Action.’

Integrating Philosophy and Theory as Knowledge, and Methodology and Application as Action, Systems Inquiry then is ‘Knowledgeable Action.’

Markus Schwaninger describes this as “Being.”


Crucial to working with systems are the types of system. Varous authors have defined system types similiar to that given us by Bela H Banathy who identifies the major categories as ‘Natural’ and ‘Designed’ systems. Natural systems are those which occur in nature while designed systems are those created by us. Designed Systems include:

a) Fabricated/engineered/physical systems;

b) Hybrid systems which combine a designed system with a natural system (Hydroelectric plant)

c) Conceptual systems such as theories, mathematics, philosophy, modeling and descriptive tools; and

d) Human Activity Systems, our purposeful creations (groups)


In Hal LInstone’s T.O.P. methodology, developed from experience in the field. the different perspectives one may adopt are grouped into the “Technical, (T); the Organizational(O) and the Personal (P). He maintains that a Technical perspective will not, for example, focus on Personal issues…”Applied to a given system, each perspective yields insights not attainable with the others. Together, T, 0, and P form what Churchman calls a Singerian inquiring system. “Cross-cuing” and integration of the perspectives must be done by the decision maker. An analogy is the American courtroom, where the jury considers various perspectives (witness testimonies) and even prototype integrations (by the prosecutor and defense attorney), but must undertake its own integration to arrive at a verdict. Furthermore, as any executive knows, science-based “replication” and “validation” are not meaningful concepts in this context.”

A summary of the key features:

1. T, 0, and P together form a superior basis for decision making than T alone. Each type offers insights not attainable with the others. The interaction among the perspectives contributes further important insights.

2. The choice of perspectives requires judgment; it is usually not possible to consider all perspectives. A good balance among the three types is always desirable, but there exists no “correct” weighting formula. In business the ability to choose and integrate perspectives that marks the effective executive.

3. 0 and P are case-specific. Obtaining input for 0 and P uses different processes than it does for T (for example, one-on-one interviews).

4. Perspectives are dynamic and change over time.

5. T usually dominates in the planning phase, 0 and P dominate in the decision and implementation phases.

P is often the key to effective communication.

The methodology, a method


An organized arrangement of systems concepts and principles that portray the behavior of a system through time. Its metaphor is the “motion-picture” of “movie” of the system.

Gyorgy Jaros has looked at information as a process. Of his Teleonics concept he writes: “It is argued that these informationally bonded processes are the basic ingredients of life and entities, which appear only as the result of processes, are of secondary importance(?). Thus, in Teleonics one does not speak of interaction between entities, but interaction between processes.”


Hierarchy Theory focuses on levels, and in a grequently used version,on scale. A significant emphasis is on the observer, thus it has been viewed as a theory of observation. For example, an individual human being may be a member of the level I) Organism, or Host, or parasite, II) primate, III) Human), depending on the relationship of the level in question to those above and below. Of particular interest in the scale version is the Holon described as a whole which is also a part of a greater whole. Principle investigators are the economist Herbert Simon, the chemist Ilya Prigogine, and the psychologist Jean Piaget. Modern investigators include Timothy Allen, Jennifer Wilby, Stanley Salthe, Roberto Poli, John McCrone.

Allen writes, “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 introduce jargon into a field that has enough special vocabulary as it is. ” 2. Pther workers take a more ontological approach.


Stanley Salthe’s approach involves two kinds of hierarchy - Scalar and Specification. A Scalar hierarchy, formally a compositonal hierarchy, has levels nested within one another, while Specification hierarchy, formally a subsumption hierarchy, extends ordered intensional complexity. Salthe writes: “Hierarchy Theory encompasses both the scalar hierarchy with nested extensions (represented as scalar levels as in

“[ecosystem [population [organism ]]]

“and also the specification hierarchy of ordered intensional complexity, modeled as integrative levels, therwise ontological levels of reality, as in the following example:

“{physical world {chemical world {biological world {social world {mental world }}}}}

“The notation involved {} and [] reflects the different kinds of levels. Salthe explains: “In the scalar system, [ ] is a selector such lower level dynamics pass are organized by a higher level so as to create the forms and processes of an intermediate level. The system is basically three leveled. In the specification hierarchy { } is a selectively transparent one-way filter. For example, at the level where social dynamics are taking place selected chemical dynamics are also “visible”, in their effects upon the social dynamics, along with the promotion or harnessing of these dynamics by social ones.”


Evolution is a tendency toward greater structural complexity, ecological and/or organizational effectiveness, more efficient modes of operation, and greater dynamic harmony by means of self-organization. A system by definition is an evolutionary system. A significant feature of a system is emergence. When the focus is on the interrelationships of a system, these relationships may be found to have emergent properties, properties which cannot be found in the elements when they are isolated. Thus a system by definition is a creator of novel features. The general evolutionary principle is this “working together” to form something new such as self-organizing systems do. General evolution theory, based on the integration of the relevant tenets of general system theory, cybernetics, information and communication theory, chaos theory, dynamical systems theory, and nonequilibrium thermodynamics can convey a sound nderstanding of the laws and dynamics the govern the evolution of complex systems in the various realms of investigation. Ot should be noted that historically, general evolution, as distinguished from special evolution as conceived by the Darwinian tradition, involved what most would call development –that is, predictable kinds of changes.


Self-organization occurs, for example, in the cell in the process of DNA replication whereby a second DNA molecule is produced as a complementary to the existing strand without any external influences. Self-organization is also seen in the union of the sperm with the ovum to form a relationship. Evolution is initiated by the self-organization of new phenotypic configurations. Self-organized Evolution is a characteristic of a system, not a product of chance events. It involves both system characteristics and contigingency.

W. Ross Ashby wrote: “I am, of course, now discussing the origin of life,. Has modern system theory anything to say on this topic?”

“It has a great deal to say, and some of it flatly contradictory to what has been said ever since the idea of evolution was first considered. In the past, when a writer discussed the topic, he usually assumed that the generation of life was rare and eculiar, and he then tried to display some way that would enable this rare and peculiar event to occur, So he tried to find some special some route from, say, carbon dioxide to the amino acid, and thence to the protein, and so on, through natural selection and evolution to intelligent beings. I say that this looking for special conditions is quite wrong. The truth is the opposite, –every dynamic system generates its own form of intelligent life, is self-organizing in this sense. …With the computers aid we can see the truth of the statement that every isolated determinate dynamic system obeying unchanging laws will develop “organisms” that are adapted to their environments.” <ref>Ashby W.Ross (1962) “Principles of the self-organizing system.” in Principles of Self-Oraganization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium, H. Von Foerster and G.W. Zopf. Jr. (eds,) Pergamon Press London pp. 255-278 </ref>


‘Soft’ systems was made distinct from ‘hard’ systems in order to differentiate among the mathematical models employed. Some systems, such as a social system, do not lend themselves to mathematical formulations as they do in, say, chemical reaction systems. Generally, hard systems are the physical systems while Soft systems are Human Activity Systems. The concept was introduced by Peter Checkland in 1981


Social systems design advocates participative democracy in which those affected by the design are the creators of the design. The metaphor of “sweeping in” applies in particular here. This requires a working knowledge of the dynamics which govern the interconnected, interdependant and interacting problems. Solutions emerge when the situation is looked at as a whole. Banathy argues “While traditional science describes what exists as determined by experiments, classification, analysis and deduction in a objective, rational and neutral way, social system design focuses on understanding, by means of analogy, metaphor, criticism and evaluation to form patterns, conjectures and models as a subjective, creative and empathetic concern.”


Human Activity Systems are designed social systems organized for a purpose, which they attain by carrying out specific functions. The various types of Human Activity Systems include Rigidly controlled systems, (assembly line) Deterministic systems (educational systems); Purposive systems, (Corporations) Purpose Seeking systems, (social systems) and Heuristic systems, (R&D agencies).


Bela H Banathy has developed social system design beginning early in his career. Social systems design does not attempt to design for the affected, “the age of the designer expert is over” he claims. This notion becomes clear when it is realized that a whole system involves those who are affected by it. And pragmatically it is believed by proponents that those who partake in their own systems design are more likely to remain committed to the design. In this way the unique desires of the participants are taken into consideration. Systems theory provides the requisite knowledge of how to design which enables those who are affected to competantly design their own system.


1. H. A. Linstone, Multipte Perspectives for Decision Making, North-Holland, N.Y., 1984. Note: An updated, revised edition is expected to be published in 1999 by Ar-tech House–>


A considerable library of literature about systems ethics was produced, How a systems behaves in relation to the (idealized)goal or purpose of the system is system ethics…


N. Wiener defined cybernetics in 1948 as the field of control and communication in the animal and the machine. This thread has produced technical cybernetics described by I.G. Bloor “as a technique it has become the design template for mechanical and electronic systems and latterly the design of management informations systems. Cybernetic theory requests that all inputs to, and outputs from a system must be defined or designed together with suitable triggers or sensor mechanisms to detect change in activity or response.” (1987 p.8)

Second order cybernetics emerged through the work of St. Beer, G. Pask, H. von Foerster, M Maruyama, H. Maturana and others. Von Foerster defined 1st Order Cybernetics as the cybernetics of the observed system whereas 2nd order cybenetics is the cybernetics of the observing system. S. Umpleby proposed in 1979 that while first order cybernetics is concerned wih the interactions of the variables in a system, second order cybernetics is concerned with the interaction between the observer and the observed.(IESC p.91)

Third Order Cybernetics is a systhesis of the observed and the observer.


It is the nature of a system that there are outward and inward flows of information and communication. If the field of systems theory is looked at with this model, we also find this complementary of in/out in this way: (1) Systems Theory is practiced by systems theorists/academicians as the focus of their research (outward), while (2) others outside the systems academic domain use system principles (inward) to focus on their research, whatever that might be. An illustration of how systems thinking is practiced by those outside the systems movement can be found in the article systems biology.

It should be noted that systemists emphasize they are not calling for a replacement of analysis by systems theory, rather there should be a complementary treatment or as it is put by Holton, both should be viewed as a “couple”

“…it is the more important for us to seek out the relations within the Analysis and Synthesis couple in order to understand the full power of each of the components rather than be misled by the asymmetrical valuations of them in contemporary theory and practice – possibly the result of the preponderance and success of reductionistic thought in our time.”<ref>Holton C (1998) The Scientific Imagination Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts. </ref>

An example of how systems theory emerges in the field can be found at the Institutes for System Biology website where they write of systems thinking using words that can be used in any field, including serving as a summary of systems philosophy.


Systems biologists try to accomplish their aims in part:

:*by identifying and quantifying the system’s components &mdash; for cells, acquiring so-called ‘-omics’ data, including the numbers and types of nucleic acids, proteins, and metabolites;

:*by identifying, characterizing, and to the extent possible, quantifying the interrelations (structural) and interactions (dynamical, coordinated, hierarchical) among the components of a system; for example, (a) molecular components: gene and protein interactions involved in a cell’s metabolic pathways; (b) organism components: organ interactions resulting in blood pressure homeostasis; ecosystem components: predator and prey behaviors;

:*by attempting to organize the system’s components abstractly in the form of ‘models’/’simulations’ &mdash; often mathematical and computational &mdash; which encode such concepts as ‘modules’, ‘circuits’ and ‘networks’, ‘network motifs’, ‘feedback’ and ‘feedforward’ loops, ‘homeostasis’, hierarchies, ‘robustness, ‘complexity’, ‘adaptation’, and ‘emergence’;

:*by conducting additional experiments to define interrelations and interactions of the real system that the model/simulation highlighted as knowledge gaps;

:*by refining the model/simulation on the basis of the data from those experiments;

:*by designing, constructing and testing synthetic biological systems from biological components.<ref>Endy D. (2005) [ Foundations for engineering biology.] Nature 438:449-453 PMID16306983

:*Review of synthetic biology: “…for biologists, the ability to design and construct synthetic biological systems provides a direct and compelling method for testing our current understanding of natural biological systems.”</ref>

<!–Summary found at systems biology institute website –“In summary, systems are comprised of parts which interact. The interaction of these parts gives rise to new properties and functions which are key to the system. We call these new properties and functions “emergent properties”. Because emergent properties are the result of interactions between the parts, they can not be attributed to any single parts of the system. This makes systems irreducible. A system is unlikely to be fully understood by taking it apart and studying each part on its own. (We cannot understand an author’s message by studying individual words; we cannot appreciate a forest by looking at individual trees.) To understand systems, and to be able to fully understand a system’s emergent properties, systems need be studied as a whole. This recognition that complex systems, especially life, are truly understood from knowledge of the interactions of their component parts is fundamental to systems biology and all the research at the Institute for Systems Biology.” –>

Boulding's Classification of Systems

1. Frameworks

                               The geography and anatomy of the universe : the
                               patterns of electrons around a nucleus, the pattern of
                               atoms in a molecular formula, the arrangement of
                               atoms in a crystal, the anatomy of the gene, the
                               mapping of the earth, etc.

2. Clockworks

                               The solar system or simple machines such as the
                               lever and the pulley, even quite complicated machines
                               like steam engines and dynamos fall mostly under this

3. Thermostats

                               Control Mechanisms or Cybernetic Systems : the
                               system will move to the maintenance of any given
                               equilibrium, within limits.

4. Cells

                               Open systems or self-maintaining structures. This is
                               the level at which life begins to differentiate itself
                               from not life.

5. Plants

                               The outstanding characteristics of these systems
                               (studied by the botanists) are first, a division of labor
                               with differentiated and mutually dependent parts
                               (roots, leaves, seeds, etc.), and second, a sharp
                               differentiation between the genotype and the
                               phenotype, associated with the phenomenon of
                               equifinal or "blueprinted" growth.

6. Animals

                               Level characterized by increased mobility, teleological
                               behavior and self-awareness, with the development of
                               specialized 'information receptors (eyes, ears, etc.)
                               leading to an enormous increase in the intake of

7. Human Beings

                               In, addition to all, or nearly all, of the characteristics
                               of animal systems man possesses self consciousness,
                               which is something different from mere awareness.

8. Social Organizations

                               The unit of such systems is not perhaps the person
                               but the "role" - that part of the person which is
                               concerned with the organization or situation in
                               question. Social organizations might be defined as a
                               set of roles tied together with channels of

9. Transcendental Systems

                               The ultimates and absolutes and the inescapable
                               unknowables, that also exhibit systematic structure
                               and relationship.
overview.txt · Last modified: 2020/07/27 15:38 (external edit)