A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.





An activity of the Primer Group


December 1, 1996; to December 31, 1997


"We live in the wake of a physics revolution comparable
to the Copernican demolition of the anthropocentric world
-- a revolution which began with the invention of the theory of relativity
and quantum mechanics in the first decades of this century
and which has left most educated people behind" .[11]


"The dramatic change in concepts and ideas that happened in physics during the first three decades of this century has been widely discussed by physicists and philosophers for more than fifty years...The intellectual crisis of quantum physicists in the 1920's is mirrored today by a similar but much broader cultural crisis. The major problems of our time...are all different facets of one single crisis, which is essentially a crisis of perception...Like the crisis in quantum physics, it derives from the fact that most of us. and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated world view...At the same time researchers...are developing a new vision of reality...emerging from modern physics can be characterized by words like organic,holistic, and ecological. It might also be called a systems view, in the sense of general systems theory. The universe is no longer seen as a machine, made up of a multitude of objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process". What we are seeing today is a shift of paradigms not only within science but also in the larger social arena...The social paradigm now receding had dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world...This paradigm consists of...the view of the world as a mechanical system, the view of the body as a machine...the view of life as a competitive struggle...the belief of unlimited of unlimited progress achieved through economic and technological growth and the belief that the female is subsumed under the male...During recent decades all these assumptions have been severely limited and in need of radical revision. Indeed, such a revision is mow taking place...In science, the language of systems theory. and especially the theory of living systems, seems to provide the most appropriate formulation of the new ecological paradigm. I would like to now specify what is meant by the systems approach...I shall identify five criteria of systems approach...1. Shift from the parts to the whole. The properties of the parts can be understood only from the dynamics of the whole. In fact, ultimately there are no parts at all 2. Shift from the structure to the process. In the new paradigm, every structure is seen as a manifestation of an underlying process. 3. Shift from objective to epistemic science. In the new paradigm, it is believed the epistemology - the understanding of the process of knowledge - has to be included explicitly in the description of natural phenomenon...4. A shift from building to networks as a metaphor of knowledge. In the new paradigm, the metaphor of knowledge as a building is being replaced by that of the network. 5. Shift from truth to approximate descriptions. This insight is crucial to all modern the new paradigm, it is recognized that all scientific concepts and theories are limited and approximate...One of the most important insights of the new systems theory is that life and cognition are inseparable. The process of knowledge is also the process of self-organization, that is, the process of life. Our conventional model of knowledge is one of representation or an image of independently existing facts which is the model derived from classical physics. From, the new systems point of view, knowledge is a part of the process of life, of a dialogue between subject and object. I believe that the world view implied by modern physics is inconsistent with our present society, which does not reflect the interrelatedness we observe in nature. To achieve such a state of dynamic balance, a radically different social and economic structure will be needed; a cultural revolution in the true sense of the word. The survival of our whole civilization may depend on whether we can bring about such a change. It will depend ultimately, on our ability to...experience the wholeness of nature and the art of living with it in harmony."


"Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born - the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things." [TDOP Huxley 23]


"According to the philosophy of Zen, we are too much a slave to the conventional way of thinking. which is dualistic through and through. No "interpenetration" is allowed, there takes place no fusing of opposites in our everyday logic. What belongs to God is not of this world, and what is of this world is incompatible with the divine. Black is not white, and white is not black. Tiger is tiger, and cat is cat, and they will never be one. Water flows, a mountain towers. This is the way things or ideas go in this universe of the senses and syllogisms. Zen, however, upsets this scheme of thought and substitutes a new one in which there exists no logic, no dualistic arrangement of ideas. We believe in dualism chiefly because of our traditional training. Whether ideas really correspond to facts is another matter requiring a special investigation. Ordinarily we do not inquire into the matter, we just accept what is instilled into our minds; for to accept is more convenient and practical, and life is to a certain extent, though not in reality, made thereby easier. We are in nature conservatives, not because we are lazy, but because we like repose and peace, even superficially. But the time comes when traditional logic holds true no more, for we begin to feel contradictions and splits and consequently spiritual anguish. We lose trustful repose which we experienced when we blindly followed the traditional ways of thinking. Eckhart says that we are all seeking repose whether consciously or not just as the stone cannot cease moving until it touches the earth. Evidently the repose we seemed to enjoy before we were awakened to the contradictions involved in our logic was not the real one, the stone has kept moving down toward the ground. Where then is the ground of non-dualism on which the soul can be really and truthfully tranquil and blessed? To quote Echart again, "Simple people conceive that we are to see God as if He stood on that side and we on this. It is not so; God and I are one in the act of my perceiving Him." In this absolute oneness of things Zen establishes the foundations of its philosophy. The idea of absolute oneness is not the exclusive possesion of Zen. There are other religious and philosophies that preach the same doctrine. If Zen, like other monisms or theisms, merely laid down this principle and did not have anythng specifically to be known as Zen, it would have long ceased to exist as such. But there is in Zen something unique which makes up its life and justifies its claim to be the most precious heritage of Eastern culture. The following "Mondo" or dialogue (literally questioning and answering) will give us a glimsp into the ways of Zen, A monk asked Joshu, one of the greatest masters in China, "What is the ultimate word of Truth?" Instead of giving him any specific answer he made a simple response saying, "Yes." The monk who naturally failed to see any sense in this kind of response asked for a second time, and to this the Master roared back. "I am not deaf!" See how irrelevantly (shall I say) the all-important problem of absolute oneness or of the ultimate reason is treated here! But this is characteristic of Zen, this is where Zen transcends logic and overrides the tyranny and misrepresentation of ideas. As I have said before, Zen mistrusts the intellect, does not rely upon traditional and dualistic methods of reasoning, and handles problems after its own original manners....To understand all this, it is necessary that we should acquire a "third eye", as they say, and learn to look at things from a new point of view."

WILLIAM JAMES "Out of what is in itselt and indistinguishable, swarming continuum, devoid of distinction (sunyata), or emphasis, our senses make for us, by attending to this motion and ignoring that, a world full of contrasts, of sharp accents, of abrupt changes, of picturesque light and shade. Helmholtz salys that we notice only those sensations which are signs to us of things. But what are things? Nothing, as we shall abundantly see, but special groups of sensible qualities, which happen practically or aesthetically to interest us, to which we therefore give substantive nbames, and which we exalt to this exclusive status of independence and dignity."

KEN WILBER Bergson was also aware of the spurios reality of "things" because, - as he himself pointed out - thought creates things by slicing up reality into small bits that it can easily grasp. Thus when you are think-ing you are thing-ing. Thought does not report things, it distorts reality to create things, and, as Bergson noted, "In so doing it allows what is the very essence of the real to escape." Thus to the extent we actually imagine a world of discrete and separate things, conceptions have become perceptions, and we have in this manner populated our universe with nothing but ghosts. Therefore the Madhyamika declares that Reality, besides being void of conceptual elaboration, is likewise Void of separate things.

The doctrine of mutual interpenetration and mutual identification of the Dharmadhatu represents man's highest attempt to put into words that non-dual experience of Reality which itself remains wordless, ineffable, unspeakable, that nameless nothingness,

The Dharmadhatu is not entirely foreign to Western thought, for something very similar to it is seen emerging in modern Systems Theory, in Gestalt psychology, and in the organismic philosophy of Whitehead. As a matter of fact, Western science as a whole is moving very rapidly towards a Dharmadhatu view of the cosmos, as biophysicist Ludwig von Bertalanffy states: We may state as a characteristic of modern sciece that the scheme of isolable units acting in one-way-causality has proved to be insufficient. Hence the appearence, in all fields of science, of notions like wholeness, holistic, organismic, gestalt, etc, which signify that in the last resort, we must think in terms of systems of elements in mutual interaction."

DAVID BOHM "Indeed, to some extent it has always been necessary and proper for man, in his thinking, to divide things up, if we tried to deal with the whole of reality at once, we would be swamped. However when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man's notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives, (i.e. in his world-view) then man ceases to regard the resultant divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and this world as actually constituted of separately existing fragments. What is needed is a relativistic theory, to give up altogether the notion that the world is constituted of basic objects or building blocks. Rather one has to view the world in terms of universal flux of events and processes."

NICK HERBERT QUANTUM REALITY # 3 (Reality is an undivided wholeness) The views of Walter Heitler, author of a standard textbook on the light/matter interaction, exemplify a third unusual claim of quantum physicists: that in spite of its obvious partitions and boundaries. the world in actuality is a seamless and inseparable whole -- a conclusion which Fritjof Capra develops in Tao of Physics and connects with the teachings of certain oriental mystics. Heitler accepts an observer-created reality but adds that the act of observation also dissolves the boundary between observer and observed. "The observer apears, as a necessary part of the whole structure, and in this full capacity as a conscious being. The separation of the world into an "objective ourtside reality' and 'us" the self-conscious onlokers. can no longer be maintained. Object and subject have become inseparable from each other.

Physicist David Bohm of London's Birbeck College had especially stressed the necessary wholeness of the quantum world. "One is led to a new notion of unbroken wholeness which denies the classical analysablity of the world into separately and independantly existing parts...The inseparable quantum interconnectedness of the whole universe is the fundamental reality."

Quantum wholemess is not mere replay of the old saw that everything is connected to everythng ewlse. no twentieth century echo, for instance, of Newton's insight that gravity links each particle to every other. All ordinary connections -- gravity for one -- inevitibly fall off with distence, thus conferring overwhelming importance to nearby connections hile distant connections become irrelevant. Undoubtedly, we are all connected in unremarkable ways, but close connections carry the most weight. Quantum wholeness on the other hand, is a fundamentally new kind of togetherness, undiminshed by spatial and temporal separation. No Casual hookup, this new quantum thing, but a true mingling of distant beings that reaches across the galaxy as forcefully as it reaches across the garden."

Religions assure us that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same deity, biologists say that we are entwined with all life-forms on this planet; our fortues rise or fall with theirs. Now, physicists have discovered that the very same atoms of our bodies are woven out of a common superluminal fabric. Not merely in physics, are humans out of touch with reality, we ignore these connections at our peril.


In a true system...not all macroscopic properties follow from the properties of components and combinations. Macroscopic properties often do not result from static structures, but from dynamic interactions playing both within the system and between the system and its environment...A human being falling in love -- perhaps only once in a lifetime -- changes the life of the community of which he or she is a part. Such considerations already hint at the fact that a systemic view of necessity leads to a dynamic perspective. Quite generally, a system becomes observable and definable as a system through its interactions. (The Self-Organizing Universe." p24)

BELA BANATHY You can't see the forest. looking at the trees.

Submitted by: Michael Ayers

'System problems' require 'system solutions', which in the language of this book means that we must aim at solving the larger system problems with solutions that not only satisfy the subsystems' objectives but also provide for the global system's survival.

Many of the problems arising in systems stem from the inability of managers, planners, analysts, administrators, and the like to differentiate between system improvement and system design. . . . The methods of science leading to system improvement have their origin in the scientific method and are known as the science paradigm. Those leading to system design stem from system theory and are known as the system paradigm.
John P. van Gigch System Design, Modeling, and Metamodeling Plenum Publishing 1991 ISBN 0-306-43740-6

The system approach requires that all decision units be integrated to deal with a common problem regardless of their formal organizational boundaries. This is optimizing at the total-system level. To feel threatened that imposing a common language infringes on a certain kind of undefined freedom is to forget that the real threat is the threat of complexity, the threat that, unless we work to resolve the mutual problems existing among systems, the systems themselves will grind to a halt.
John P. van Gigch

...four basic features of self-organization that truly stood the traditional concepts of systems change on their head:
1) Self-organization is a self-generated and self-guided process. This means change is neither a hierarchically controlled not an externally driven process.
2) Self-organization moves beyond the idea of a system as an inert mass characterized by innate resistance to change. Instead, change is the activation of a system's inherent potential for transformation, i.e., its non-linearity.
3) Self-organization results from the utilization, even enhancement of random, accidental and unexpected events. Change, then, is not the suppression of chaos; it is order emerging out of chaos.
4) Self-organization represents a system undergoing a revolution prompted by far-from-equilibrium conditions. This is vastly different than the traditional model where change is nothing more than a mere shift in system functioning and a subsequent return to equilibrium.
Jeffrey Goldstein The Unshackled Organization Productivity Press 1994 ISBN 1-56327-048-X

1. If a system uses all of the knowledge that is has, it must be perfectly intelligent. These is nothing that anything called intelligence can do to produce more effective performance. If all the knowledge that a system has is brought to bear in the service of its goals, the behavior must correspond to what perfect intelligence produces.
2. If a system does not have some knowledge, failure to use it cannot be a failure of intelligence. Intelligence can work only with the knowledge the system has.
3. If a system has some knowledge and fails to use it, then there is certainly a failure of some internal ability. Something within the system did not permit it to make use of the knowledge in the service of one of its own goals, that is, in its own interests. This failure can be identified with a lack of intelligence. . . .
Intelligence as defined is not a measure, but a description of adequacy over the joint range of two complex domains, the system's goals and the system's knowledge.
Allen Newell Allen Newell Unified Theories of Cognition Harvard University Press 1990 ISBN 0-674-92101-1

The components of a social system -- the humans -- have too much knowledge relative to how rapidly that can communicate it to each other. There is no way for a social group to assemble all the information relevant to a given goal, much less integrate it. There is no way for a social group to act as a single body of knowledge.
Allen Newell

The deterioration of the American economy and its enterprises is not a problem but a complex system of interrelated problems. I call such systems messes. A mess cannot be handled effectively by breaking it down into its constituent parts and solving each part separately. As we will see, the way problems and their solutions interact is much more important than how they act independently of each other.
Russell L. Ackoff The Democratic Corporation Oxford Univ Press 1994 ISBN 0-19-508727-5

A system is a whole that contains two or more parts that satisfy the following five conditions.
1) The whole has one or more defining functions.
2) Each part in the set can affect the behavior or properties of the whole.
3) There is a subset of parts that is sufficient in one or more environments for carrying out the defining function of the whole; each of these parts is separately necessary but insufficient for carrying out their defining function.
4) The way that the behavior or properties of each part a system affects its behavior or properties depends on the behavior or properties of at least one other part of the system.
5) The effect of any subset of parts on the system as a whole depends on the behavior of at least one other subset. . . . If the parts of a corporation do not interact, they form an aggregation, not a system.
Russell L. Ackoff

How part of a system performs when considered independently of the system of which it is a part is irrelevant to its performance in the system of which it is a part. . . .
Supervision and command are the management of actions; coordination and integration are the management of interactions, and this requires leadership. The exercise of leadership does not necessarily require authority. . . . The defining function of a system cannot be carried out by any part of the system taken separately. . . .
Furthermore, when an essential part of a system is separated from the system of which it is a part, that part loses its ability to carry out its defining function.
Russell L. Ackoff

The educational system in general and business schools in particular treat analysis and thought as synonyms, but analysis is only one way of thinking.. Its product is not understanding but knowledge of systems, how their parts act and interact, how they work, their structure. Synthetic thinking is required to gain understanding of systems. Understanding comes from determining how they function in the larger systems of which they are part.
Russell L. Ackoff

A system, after all, is any unit containing feedback structure and therefore competent to process information. There are ecological systems, social systems, and the individual organism plus the environment with which it interacts is itself a system in this technical sense. The circumstance that the family as a unit came to be thought of as a system must lead back inevitably, I believe, to considering the individual as a system.
It follows that the ways of thinking evolved by psychiatrists in order to understand the family as a system. . . .The polarization of opinion then will not be simply between practitioners of individual therapy and practitioners of family therapy but between those who think in terms of systems and those who think in terms of lineal sequences of cause and effect. . . .
The basic rule of system theory is that, if you want to understand some phenomenon or appearance, you must consider that phenomenon within he context of all completed circuits which are relevant to it.
Gregory Bateson A Sacred Unity Harper 1991 ISBN 0-06-250100-3

The final state of the closed system is completely determined by initial circumstances that can therefore be said to be the best 'explanation' of that system; in the case of the open system, however, organization characteristics of the system can operate to achieve even the extreme case of total independence of initial conditions: the system is then its own best explanation, and the study of its present organization the appropriate methodology.
Watzlawick, Bavelas, and Jackson

Prigogine's work on the evolution of dynamic systems demonstrated that disequilibrium is the necessary condition for a system's growth. He called these system dissipative structures because they dissipate their energy in order to recreate themselves into new forms of organization. Faced with amplifying level of disturbance, these systems possess innate properties to reconfigure themselves so that they can deal with the new information. For this reason, they are frequently called self-organizing or self-renewing systems. One of the distinguishing features is system resiliency rather than stability.
M. J. Wheatley

These ideas speak with a simple clarity to issues of effective leadership. They bring us back to the importance of simple governing principles: guiding visions, strong values, organizational beliefs -- the few rules individuals can use to shape their own behavior. The leader's task is to communicate them, to keep them ever-present and clear, and then allow individuals in the system their random, sometimes chaotic-looking meanderings. . . .
If we succeed in maintaining focus, rather than hands-on control, we also create the flexibility and responsiveness that every organization craves. What leaders are called upon to do in chaotic world is to shape their organizations through concepts, not through elaborate rules or structures.
M. J. Wheatley Leadership and the New Science Berrett-Koehler Publishers 1992 ISBN 1-881052-01-X

Michael Ayers
IT Education Svcs\3M Center 224-2NE-02
PO Box 33224
St Paul MN 55133-3224
Voice (612) 733-5690
FAX (612) 737-7718
- Ideas in this note represent the author's opinions and do not - intentionally represent the positions of anyone else in this galaxy.

John Woods

When I read that recent posting of quotes about systems, I thought I would share a similar listing that I compiled sometime ago.

A “system” can be defined as a complex of elements standing in interaction. There are general principles holding for systems, irrespective of the nature of the component elements and the relations of forces between them. ...In modern science, dynamic interaction is the basic problem in all fields, and its general principles will have to be formulated in general General Systems Theory.

—Ludwig von Bertalanffy Problems of Life

General Systems Theory, a related modern concept [to holism], says that each variable in any system interacts with the other variables so thoroughly that cause and effect cannot be separated. A simple variable can be both cause and effect. Reality will not be still. And it cannot be taken apart! You cannot understand a cell, a rat, a brain structure, a family, a culture if you isolate it from its context. Relationship is everything.

—Marilyn Ferguson The Aquarian Conspiracy

The systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration. Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or basic substances, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization. Every organism—from the smallest bacterium through the wide range or plants and animals to humans is an integrated whole and thus a living system. ...But systems are not confined to individual organisms and their parts. The same aspects of wholeness are exhibited by social systems—such as an anthill, a beehive, or a human family—and by ecosystems that consist of a variety of organisms and inanimate matter in mutual interaction. What is preserved in a wilderness area is not individual trees or organisms but a complex web of relationships between them.

All these natural systems are wholes whose specfic structures arise from the interactions and interdependence of their parts. The activity of systems involves a process known as transaction—the simultaneous and mutually interdependent interaction between multiple components.

—Fritjof Capra The Turning Point

Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static “snapshots.” It is a set of general principles—distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management. ...During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility—for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character.

—Peter Senge The Fifth Discipline BELLS THEOREM



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