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Reframing Systems Thinking for Systems Changes: Sciencing and Philosophizing from Pragmatism towards Processes as Rhythms | JISSS

An article on “sciencing and philosophizing”, coauthored by Gary S. Metcalf and myself, has been published in the Journal of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, following the ISSS 2023 Kruger Park conference in South Africa, last July.  There’s a version cacned on  the Coevolving Commons.

This article started in a series of conversations with Gary in early 2023, as he was listening to the history of Pragrmatism as an audiobook of The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas by Louis Menand, written in 2002.  Key figures in the development of this philosophy includes William James (1842—1910) and Charles Sanders Peirce (1839—1914).  My interests have taken me backwards in time, with C. West Churchman and Russell Ackoff both students of Edgar A. Singer, Jr., who was a student of William James.  A thread looking into Stephen C. Pepper, also a student of William James and Ralph Barton Perry, was encouraged by online comments from Michael C. Jackson, OBE.  This led to a tracing of philosophical influences from the 1890s to 2000.

Institutional lineages of key figures in systems sciences and pragmatism

With my current research into Classical Chinese philosophy, I was encouraged by an 1993 interview citing Churchman having a similar interest for in exploring alternatives to classical Western philosophy for sciencing on systems.

In conversations with Churchman on the historical sources of systems thinking, he often identified the Chinese I Ching as the oldest systems approach. As an effort to model dynamic processes of changing relationships between different kinds of elements, the I Ching might be seen as a systemic approach, in contrast with the more systematic approach of rationalist Western thought, rooted in the work of Plato and Aristotle. The pre-Socratic philosophers were perhaps closer in spirit to the Eastern view than they were to the more orderly view of systems embodied in the later evolution of the Western tradition. This is particularly true of Heraclitus, whose inspiration is often cited in connection with the more progressive developments within the contemporary systems tradition. This contrast between systemic conceptions, which focus on interrelationships and dynamic processes, and the systematic conceptions, which are more concerned with classification and order, is critical in understanding the relationship between different views of systems in the twentieth century (Hammond, 2003, p. 13).

To date, the interest in processual philosophy has led more towards understanding yinyang in the science of Classical Chinese Mecicine.  I have some understanding of the I Ching (Yi Jing), but more study is warranted.

For those tolerant of reading philosophical works, comprehensiveness unfortunately makes the text long.  Here’s an outline.

  • 1. Introduction: Sciencing systems from post-WWII into the 2020s sweeps in philosophizing
  • 2. Sciencing on organizations 1960s-1990s reflects post-WWII scholarship
    • 2.1 The Socio-Psychological Systems perspective and Operations Research came from post-WWII sciencing
      • 2.1.1 Psychologists Trist and Emery were early in organizational development at the rise of industrialization
      • 2.1.2 Philosopher Churchman led architect Ackoff towards philosophy, during WWII problem-solving
      • 2.1.3 In the early 1970s, the Social Systems Science program brought scholars together into Pennsylvania
    • 2.2 Socio-Technical and Socio-Ecological Systems perspectives evolved to Causal Texture Theory
      • 2.2.1 Industrial mechanization led to the development of the Socio-Technical Systems perspective
      • 2.2.2 The increased speed of change around organizations led to the Socio-Ecological Systems perspective
    • 2.3 Operations Research evolved to Social Systems Science
    • 2.4 After Internet and globalization, 2020s concerns included service economy and Anthropocene
  • 3. Philosophizing on science in the 1940s-1970s coincided with postwar recovery
    • 3.1 Causal Texture Theory has root metaphors in organicism and contextualist world hypotheses
    • 3.2 Social Systems Science couples science with values, and progress towards ideals, from nonrelativistic pragmatism
    • 3.3 Ecological anthropology temporalizes, yinyang synthesizes dyadic rhythms
      • 3.3.1 Philosophizing on ecological systems has re-expressed strands as lines co-responding over time
      • 3.3.2 Philosophizing on metaphysics enables an appreciation of foundations in Chinese medical science
      • 3.3.3 Reframed practices can result from expansive approaches to philosophizing and sciencing
  • 4. Sciencing on systems changes leads to philosophizing on sciencing
    • 4.1 Contextural-dyadic thinking mutually unfolds Socio-Technical and Socio-Ecological
    • 4.2 Socio-Technical as yin alongside Socio-Ecological as yang is a new world hypothesis
    • 4.3 Eurhythmatizing dyads in contextures replaces idealizing towards steady states
  • 5. Conclusion: Textures can be systems; not all systems are textures
  • Appendix 1: Philosophical lineages from 1890 into 20th century systems thinking
  • Appendix 2: Object Process Modeling of Causal Textures Theory with Contextual Dyadic Thinking
  • References

We, as the authors, have proposed that this research article might be broken down into two parts, for republishing in a more digestible form.

In a change of procedure from previous ISSS meetings, this submission this year was double-blind peer-reviewed.  In addition to some comments on a few additional references, a reviewer suggested that we change the title to better match the abstract.  So, while this might be known as the “sciencing and philosophizing” paper, the final title reflects the larger research agenda into systems changes, by the end of year 5 of an epoused 10-year journey.

At the ISSS meeting in South Africa, the audience was unfamiliar with the history of pragmatism, so Gary focused his talk on that.  A more relaxed pace for the July 2023 Systems Thinking Ontario session gave us an opportunity for a longer presentation that could be recorded.

Here’s the official abstract, as published.


Abstract

Systems thinking rose in 20th century industrial society largely from post-WWII research. Psychologists Eric L. Trist and Fred E. Emery were early in human relations, later turning towards sociology. Philosophers C. West Churchman and Russell L. Ackoff were cofounders of Operations Research, applying pragmatism to problem-solving of complex issues. The texture of Socio-Technical Systems (STS) and Socio-Ecological Systems (SES) perspectives interweaves with management science and inquiring systems.

In the 21st century, the Service Economy and Ecological Anthropocene followed advancement of the Internet and globalization through the 1990s. Resurfacing Trist-Emery and Churchman-Ackoff for a new generation not only revisits their sciencing, but also philosophizing.

Trist-Emery Socio-Psychological Systems (SPS) and STS perspectives extended the structuralist psychology of Gestalt, through Andras Angyal and Kurt Lewin. The SES perspective built on the pragmatist metaphilosophy of Stephen C. Pepper. Sciencing by Churchman-Ackoff encouraged Operations Research beyond mathematics towards collaborative decision-making. Postwar applied philosophizing built on the experimentalism of Edgar A. Singer Jr. This lineage traces from the Metaphysical Club circa 1890, through the 1980s.

Philosophizing in the 21st century provides new lenses for the systems sciences. Through ecological anthropology, Tim Ingold depicts the lives of lines, and texture in weaving. Through Classical Chinese Medicine, Keekok Lee distinguishes yin qi and yang qi. In post-colonial constructionist program of Rethinking Systems Thinking, principal concepts of (i) rhythm, (ii) texture, and (ii) propensity have become the core of Systems Changes Learning practices, theory, and methods. A new world hypothesis of (con)textural-dyadicism is proposed, combining STS and SES features. The associated systems theory foregrounds time-space changes over the defining of space-time systems and boundaries. Philosophizing across Western and Classical Chinese traditions requires deeper inquiry and education.

Keywords: Systems change, philosophy of science, pragmatism, Chinese philosophy, socio-technical, socio-ecological

Citation

David Ing and Gary S. Metcalf, “Reframing Systems Thinking for Systems Changes: Sciencing and Philosophizing from Pragmatism towards Processes as Rhythms.” Journal of the International Society for the Systems Sciences 67: 4154. https://journals.isss.org/index.php/jisss/article/view/4154.

Reference

Hammond, Debora. 2003. The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory. University Press of Colorado. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/85409/.


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