The Primer SIG

Ken Wilber is a transpersonal psychologist who has formulated an Integral Theory of Consciousness which integrates approximately twelve different fields of consciousness studies (from East and West). He accomplished this, he says, by noticing that each of the thousands of books he has read seemed to fall into a pattern, a pattern he eventually isolated and now calls the Four Quadrant Integral Theory of Consciousness. Simply put, Wilber says, investigative studies seem to fall into one of four categories: Internal, External, Object, and Interobject.


Wilber also challenges the systems sciences with a comment in his latest book saying that systems science is monological. "But, as we saw, the specific difficulty with empirical science of any variety s not that it is atomistic or holistic, analytic or systems, but rather that it is empirical and monological in the first place. Systems Theory does not alter that in the least: it merely continues the monological madness by other means, which, in this case, is all the more insidious because its proponents imagine that they have overcome the problem, whereas the have simply cloned it." (Patterns Sept. 1998).

Our answer to that challange.

The Primer group invites from ISSS members, introductory essays of approximately two-four pages in length which will serve to introduce the particular aspect of systemics with which they are most familiar. The essay will be divided into four interrelated levels of description (see von Bertalanffy, Banathy Four Domains of systemic inquiry). First is a general or philosophical statement of principles. The second is an application of those principles in a specific theory. The third is a plan or methodology, and fourth, to act on all of the above. In addition to the essay, a single sentence which sums up the entire essay should be provided, and also a paragraph which explains the single sentence in greater detail. These may be extracted from the essay if available. A general introduction will also be required as the beginning of the essay. These essays will then be hyperlinked on the ISSS website in such a manner that all the single sentences may be accessed across the board, and likewise, all the paragraphs. That is, the casual observer would be able to link across the holoarchy from facet to facet horizontally. At any time, the links will also be provided vertically such that any single facet may be accessed in greater and greater detail.

The essay should be concise and clear, It should contain a minimum of technical terms, and those that are used should be defined (like this). The essay should be written with the journalist (with no prior knowledge) in mind as the typical reader.It is requested that a link or reference to a research paper or actual project be also provided.

For reasons of consistency, the Primer definition of "system" might be used -- A system is like a family of relationships among the members interacting as a whole.

Abstracts should be 300 words or less, and could be a brief outline of the proposed essay.

Abstracts should be sent to the
Chair of the Primer SIG,
Tom Mandel



for the 42nd Meeting of the
Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
19-24 JULY 1998

The Primer Group

The critical need for a synoptic overview of the essentials of systemics is made even more obvious by this statement recently made by Alan McGowen, a computer scientist:

<< <<
The old, EE (electrical-engineering) and communications theory
"cybernetic" "systems science" that came from Weiner, Shannon etc.
has pretty much vanished [except maybe for people designing billion
channel SETI receivers and GPS-based navigation systems :-)]. The
mumbo-jumbo pseudoscience accretions (such as Korzybski) were long
ago supplanted by the Chomsky hierarchy and metamathematical work
such as Godel's and Turing's and never had any influence -- except
on very gullible "wholists" who contribute nothing to knowledge.

"Systems science" per se is pretty defunct outside EE, though it was
a useful stepping stone toward the science of complexity.>> >>

The above comments should be taken as a wake-up call, lest the work of forty years is for naught.

Consider these words of Murray Gell-Mann, co-founder of the science of complexity at Sante Fe Institute.

"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."


the last paragraph of the book
John Casti
Sante Fe Institute

"SO we come to the perhaps not so surprising conclusion that the creation of
a science of complex systems is really a subtask of the more general and much
more ambitious program of creating a theory of models. Complexity--as a
science--is merely one of the many rungs on this endless ladder."


John Brockman The Third Culture; Beyond the Scientific Revolution. 1995,
Simon & Schuster New York p 11 (Table of contents)

Murray Gell-Mann

To refer to the subject on which some of us now work as "complexity" seems to
me to distort the nature of what we do., because the simplicity of the
underlying rules is a critical feature of the whole enterprse. Therefore what
I like to say is that the subject consists of the study of simplicity,
complexity of various kinds, and complex adaptive systems, with some
consideration of complex nonadaptive systems as well ... which I call

Historically, the notions of systemic wholeness (systems) have appeared throughout recorded history in the systems of early Chinese thought (Yin/Yang), and early Western thought. (Empedocles "Earth")

And then, in the modern era, the pendulum swung the other way, toward scientific analysis and reductionistic separations throughout the scientific era until as recently as the early 1920's, when the notion of wholeness and organism was talked about again by Weiss, Whitehead and Smuts. By 1933, Holism, the whole greater than the sum of the parts, was entered into the Encyclopedia. At that time too, Schroedingers quantum mechanics, of which he states, "form, not substance..." was developed to deal with relationships rather than absolute entities at the elementary particle level.

A biologist working by the name of Ludwig von Bertalanffy was working in his lab when he noticed particularily that there were certain isomorphic structures in the diverse collection of lab models stored on the shelfs of his lab. . This lead to his notion of his theory of general systems which he first wrote about after WW11. He would later publish his book "General Systems Theory" which created a science of general systems.

He writes
Yet there is a third reason for the isomorphism of laws in different
realms which is important for the present purpose. In our consideration we
started with a general definition of "system"; defined as "a set of elements
in interaction" and expresses by the system of equation. No special
hypothesis or statements 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
as well known in various fields of science, and, in part concern concepts
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 these are concerned with "systems" and that
certain general principles apply to systems irrespective of their nature.
Hence principles such as those of wholeness and sum, mechanization, hierarchic
order, approached to steady states, equifinality, etc., may appear in quite
different disciplines. The isomorphism found in different realms is based of
the existence of general system principles, of a more or less well-developed
"general system theory."(pp.84 GST)

That was then, and this is now, best exemplified by Charles Francois, editor of the International Encyclopedia of Systemics and Cybernetics.
"Many systems related models and concepts have appeared during the last
50 years. But this occured in a casual and even random way. Some arose
in specific disciplines and their general value did not become
immediately obvious. Some others were shaped by globally oriented minds,
but their usefulness in a transdiciplinarian sense was not perceived by
specialists in widely separated fields.
It is now time to search everywhere for these scattered bits of
systemic knowledge. They should be gathered, related, ordered and
explained in a global perspective.
We should moreover try to discover which special sets of specific
connected tools could be used to understand, explain and better manage
complex issues. This is an urgent need if we want to avoid future
disasters at gigantic scale. It is altogether the only way to give
systemics its real dimension and importance for the future of mankind.
This is what the members of the Primer project are trying to achieve."

The Primer has a twofold purpose. In one sense it is a primer of systemic principles, a handbook on what is out there. On the other hand, the Primer induces action, primes the pump, so to speak, serving as a resource for systemic action for the professional as well as a casual observer.

The Primer as a elementary primer is unique in that it is a collective effort of primarily ISSS members therby presenting a rather unique multi-perspectual viewpoint.

We are compiling information on three levels - a single sentence glossory definition; a single page explanation; and a multi-page overview. These then will be combined and hyper linked in various ways.

Appendix A
Keynote speech
from International Complexity

By Rodger Bradbury, A Keynote Speech
Complexity International
Excerpted from

Grand Challenge or Toy Story
But look over there! Those guys look asleep; but where are the TVs? Got it -
it's an AAAS meeting! This looks awfully like the famous 1954 AAAS meeting in
Berkeley. Now they were glory days for science! Korea was over, Vietnam was
still a French war; no sputnik yet to shake our confidence in the stately
progress of Western science; students wore ties - not tie-dyed - on the
campus; and everyone else was asleep in front of the TV. Berkeley was still
just a campus, not a place to "get your shit together".

So what are they doing here? Let's listen in. Hey, these guys are reading
their papers to each other and talking about forming a Society for the
Advancement of General Systems Theory. As they said in Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid, "Who are those guys?" I can just recognise a few. There's
Ludwig von Bertalanffy, the allometrist, and Kenneth Boulding, the economist.
There's Nick Rashevsky from the Committee on Mathematical Biology at Chicago,
and Anatol Rapoport, the mathematician from Ann Arbor, and folks from Bell
Labs and the London School of Economics and the Zoology Department at
Cambridge. There are chemists and psychologists. This is quite a scene. There
are even a couple of post-modern (in a strictly fifties sense) flaky
liberation biology types hyping the general systems nature of the rights of
man, for chrissake.

Have we lucked out or what? These guys are just like us. They could be our

And here they are, talking all kinds of neat stuff and forming a society and
all. They've got papers on topology in biology, on closed and open systems,
on entropy and information, on general systems as a new paradigm for science
(but of course they don't use the word "paradigm" - Kuhn is still in
intellectual nappies right now). They are also talking about models and
modelling, adaptive and random systems. No kidding: Anatol Rapoport has a
1951 paper called Connectivity of random nets. Wow!

They are even talking about complexity. How about these section headers: The
concept of complexity; Complexity in biological systems; Systems with the
property of evolution; Does learning involve an increase in complexity;
Complexity in time? This is all from the paper by Pringle, the guy from
Cambridge - and he's a behaviourist who quotes Volterra the mathematical
ecologist, Schr(dinger the physicist, Shannon the mathematician, Fisher the
geneticist, and of course von Bertalanffy, who was to become the chair of
this society. So this Pringle, whom I have never heard of, uses all the flash
buzz words, cites widely across the disciplines and knows his grantsmanship.
And this is all lifted from a paper he wrote in 1951. I bet these guys even
gave the rest of science the shits with their smug, superior,
nah-nah-we-know-something-you-don't-know airs, just like we do.

So maybe our meeting today should really be the 50th meeting of the Society
for the Advancement of General Systems Theory, and not just the 3rd meeting
of the Complex Systems Society or whatever. But it isn't. There are big
questions here. Like: Did these guys stuff up? Did we? How long till lunch?
You'll have to go to the website if you want to hear how Rodger paints the

These are good questions,

But there's another side of the story, told by Bela,
Excerpted from
Foundations for Research in Educational Communitions and Technology.
Systems Inquiry and its Application in Education

Written by Bela Banathy
Excerpted by Tom Mandel

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

The objectives of GST. then. can be set out with varying degrees of ambition and confidence, At a low level of amibition, but with a high degree of confidence, it aims to point out similarities in the theoretical constructions of different disciplines , where these exist, and to develop theoretical models having applicability to different fields of study. At a higher level of ambition, but perhaps with a lower level of confidence, it hopes to develop something like a "spectrum" of theories, a system of systems that may perform a "gestalt" in theoretical constructions.
It is the main objective of GST says Boulding, to develop "generalized ears" that overcome the "specializcd deafness" of the specific disciplines. meaning that someone who ought to know something that someone else knows isn't able to f ind it out for lack of generalized ears. Developing a framework of a general theory will enable the specialist to catch relevant coumniunication from others. In (the closing section of this paper, Boulding referred to the subtitle of his paper. GST as "the skeleton of science"
It is a skeleton in the sense- he says, that "It aims to provide a framework or structure of systems on which to hang the flesh and blood of particular disciplines and particular subject matters in an orderly and coherant corpus of knowledge. It is, also. however, something of a "skeleton in a cupboard" The cupboard in this case being the unwillingness of science to admit the tendency to shut the door on problems and subject matters which do not fit easily into simple mechanical schemes.
Science, for all its success still has a very long way to So. GST may at times be an embarrassement in pointing out how very far we still have to go, and in deflating excessive philosophical claim for overly simple systems. It also may be helpful, however, in pointing out to some extent where we have to go. The skeleton must come out of the cupboard before its dry bones can live.
The (two) papers introduced above set forth the "vision" of the systems movement. That vision still guides us today. At this point it seems to be appropriate to tell the story that marks the genisis 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 UWversity, 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 the 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?"
Bela Banathy