THE PRIMER PROJECT
A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.
SYSTEMIC INQUIRY AND INTEGRATION
An activity of
the Primer Group
THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL ELECTRONIC SEMINAR
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" .
"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subscribe to the concepts of an outdated world view...At the same time researchers...are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 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."
"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
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."
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com
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 organismfrom 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 systemssuch
as an anthill, a beehive, or a human familyand 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 transactionthe 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
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.
Peter Senge The Fifth Discipline BELLS THEOREM
Quantum Vacuum Interaction
Send e-mail to issstopics-L@newciv.org
Return to home page
Return to map page