Guess what? Already there is
an "interactive" academic community that has been around
for nearly half the Century. They call their thing "system"
Everyone knows what a system is, even if it is only "my system."
But science has a system that is general, Ludwig von
Bertalanffy defined it as "Elements in Standing Relationship"
and the key word is interaction. Today we all think of the elements,
what is new here is thinking in terms of interaction. But you
know scientists, they like to know all about it. The first paragaph
is an excerptation of Capra's "Turning Point." Then
I quote a master of the complexity science, "someone should
be studying the whole..." Gell Man says, and indeed Ludwig
von Bertalanffy starts it off as a science. After that it gets
complex or not, depending. I have just been informed by Li that
these are outer systems, and we yet have to integrate inner systems.
A different Perspective
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to the concepts of an outdated world view...At the same time researchers...are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, (w)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
science...in 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."
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."
GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY
"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,
"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...
"General system theory, therefore, is a general science of
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 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."
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)
A Starting Place Submitted by by
A top-down systemic strategy, this involves imagining the whole
oceanic unity of the universe, as we all vaguely remember experiencing
it in the womb, then making a division, say between self and other,
then conversationally and experimentally exploring the connections
across the boundary between self and other. Then successively
by making other analagous distinctions, say between the self and
the family and the other, or between the living and the non-living,
we can explore the connections across those boundaries using guiding
metaphors as heuristics and rigorous logic for detailed self-correcting
theory and model building.
"But let me emphasize that to have an approach of wholeness
that we are going to be able to capture the whole of existence
our concepts and knowledge. Rather it means first that we understand
this totality as an unbroken and seamless whole in which relatively
autonomous objects and forms emerge. And secondly it means that
far as wholeness is comprehended with the aid of the implicate
the relationship between the various parts or sub wholes are ultimately
internal. Wholeness is seen as primary while the parts are secondary,
the sense that what they are and what they do can be understood
the light of the whole. And perhaps I should also add here that
sub whole there is a certain quality that does not come from the
but helps organize the parts. I could summarize this in the principle:
The wholeness of the whole and the parts. Each human being is
related to the totality, including nature and the whole of mankind.
is also therefore internally related to other human beings. How
that relationship is, has to be explored. What I am further saying
that the quantum theory implies that ultimately the relationship
parts and whole of matter in general is understood in a similar
This approach of wholeness could help to end the far-reaching
pervasive fragmentation that arises out of the mechanistic world
When a person glimpses the face of a famous actor, sniffs a favorite
food or hears the voice of a friend, recognition is instant. Within
a fraction of a second after the eyes, nose, ears, tongue or skin
is stimulated, one knows the object is familiar and whether it
is desirable or dangerous. How does such recognition, which psychologists
call preattentive perception, happen so accurately and quickly,
even when the stimuli are complex and the context in which they
Much is known about the way the cerebral cortex,
the outer rind of the brain, initially analyzes sensory messages.
Yet investigations are only now beginning to suggest how the brain
moves beyond the mere extraction of features-how it combines sensory
messages with past experience and with expectation to identify
both the stimulus and its particular meaning to the individual.
My own group's studies, carried out over more than
30 years at the University of California at Berkeley, suggest
that perception cannot be understood solely by examining properties
of individual neurons, a microscopic approach that currently dominates
neuroscience research. We have found that perception depends on
the simultaneous, cooperative activity of millions of neurons
spread throughout expanses of the cortex. Such global activity
can be identified, measured and explained only if one adopts a
macroscopic view alongside the microscopic one.
There is an analogy to this approach in music. To
grasp the beauty in a choral piece, it is not enough to listen
to the individual singers sequentially. One must hear the performers
together, as they modulate their voices and timing in response
to one another.
From: February 1991 Scientific American, Vol 264,
(2) Pgs. 78-85.
JAN C. SMUTS
Holism and Evolution;
Holism (from the Greek Holos, whole) is the theory, which makes
the existence of "wholes" a fundamental feature of the
world. It regards natural objects, both animate and inanimate,
as "wholes" and not merely as assemblages of elements
or parts. (which) looks upon nature as consisting of discrete,
concrete bodies and things, and not as a diffusive homogeneous
continuum. And these bodies or things are not entirely resolvable
into parts; in one degree or another they are wholes which are
more than the sum of their parts, and the mechanical putting together
of their parts will not produce them or account for their characters
and behaviour. The so-called parts are in fact not real but largely
abstract analytical distinctions, and do not properly or adequately
express what has gone to the making of the thing as a whole.
A Sacred Unity Harper 1991 ISBN 0-06-250100-3
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
New Concepts of Matter, Life & Mind
Advances in the new sciences suggest a further modification of
this assumption about the nature of reality. In light of what
scientists are beginning to glimpse regarding the nature of the
quantum vacuum, the energy sea that underlies all of spacetime,
it is no longer warranted to view matter as primary and space
as secondary. It is to space or rather, to the cosmically extended
"Dirac-sea" of the vacuum that we should grant primary
reality. The things we know as matter (and that scientists know
as mass, with its associated properties of inertia and gravitation)
appear as the consequence of interactions in the depth of this
universal field. In the emerging concept there is no "absolute
matter," only an absolute matter- generating energy field.
The Fifth Discipline
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 principlesdistilled 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 sensibilityfor the subtle interconnectedness that gives
living systems their unique character.
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.
ERIC SOMMER Synergy: an Introduction:
a `synergy', I mean a system of interactions between two or more
actors or centers of action. The word `synergy' comes from a Greek
work meaning `working together'. Any set of two or more interacting
beings may be regarded as a synergy. Two people in a conversation,
two people bumping into each other on the street, a bee visiting
flowers and polinating them, or two armies at war may all be regarded
as synergies. All of them involve interactons or systems of interaction
between two or more beings or centers of action.
the Systems Sciences:
Synergy -- the combined effects produced by two
(or more ) parts, elements or individuals -- is a unbiquitous
phemomenon in nature and human societies alike.
Although it plays a significant role in most, if
not all, of the scienctific disciplnes its importance is not widely
appreciated because it travels under many different aliases, including
emergence, cooperativity, symbiosis, coevolution, symmetry, order,
interactions, interdependencies, systemic effects, even complexity
and dynamical attractors. In this paper it is proposed that the
term "synergy" be utilized as a pan-disciplinary lingua
franca for co-operative effects of various kinds.
Although its role is often unappreciated, synergy
can also be considered one of the core concepts of the systems
LUDWIG von BERTALANFFY
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.