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Systems thinking and (the) systems science(s) in a system of ideas

On the discussion list of the Systems Science Working Group, there’s a request to comment on the Overview of Systems Science wiki page (draft version 0.5) that is part of the Guide to Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge.  Basic descriptions are hard to write.  Asking the “what is …” question is a challenge of ontology, and may not cover the “why …” question coming from the perspective of teleology or the “how …” question coming from the history and philosophy of science.

I appreciate that novices like definitions.  In a scholarly style, I generally cite descriptions by individual thinkers who each have a system of ideas.  In an attempt to appreciate commonalities and differences between prominent figures in the systems movement, I had been hosting a series of Systems Sciences Connections Conversations aimed at traversing social ties between individuals.  As a fun example, we asked Allenna Leonard if Stafford Beer and Jane Jacobs knew each other, as they both lived in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto.  Allenna’s response was, of course, they would see each other in places like the drug store.  Stafford Beer did use Cities and the Wealth of Nations as a foundation for his work in Uruguay, but there wasn’t really an occasion for ongoing collaboration.  Developing a network of systems of ideas is a more modest endeavour than trying to create a system of system of ideas.

Describing the world in objective entities isn’t the way I think.  I’m strongly influenced by the idea of reflexivity (described in the context of social theory on Wikipedia).  Pierre Bourdieu invited a path into his system of ideas as reflexive sociology.  George Soros has a general theory of reflexivity.

For descriptions in this domain — not definitions, for which a dictionary might be a better source — I’ll defer to International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, edited by Charles François.  I have a copy of the 1997 first edition, which was superseded by a larger 2004 second edition that I haven’t seen.  Based on some entries in this encyclopedia, some Russell Ackoff readings, and my accumulated perspective on systems, I’ll make some assertions.

  • 1. Systems thinking and the systems sciences are parts of an ecology of knowledge
  • 2. Systems thinking prescribes an ordering of synthesis and analysis, emphasizing superordinates (containing wholes)
  • 3. The development of the “systems sciences” historically correlates with the rise of the “social systems sciences” program at the University of Pennsylvania
  • 4. The systems sciences have a heritages in cybernetics and general systems theory
  • 5. Systems thinking and the systems sciences manifest as systems approaches

For considerations of length, the Systems Science Working Group may split the content into two separate articles on systems science and systems methodology.

1. Systems thinking and the systems sciences are parts of an ecology of knowledge

Systems thinking and the systems science could be seen as subfields of knowledge.  They’re related, yet distinct.  Applying systems thinking on describing systems thinking leads to describing an ecology.

ECOLOGY of KNOWLEDGE

“The study of pattern of interrelationships among the various “species” (subsystems, sub-subsystems, etc.) and fields and subfields of knowledge with emphasis on:

On the discussion list of the Systems Science Working Group, there’s a request to comment on the Overview of Systems Science wiki page (draft version 0.5) that is part of the Guide to Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge.  Basic descriptions are hard to write.  Asking the “what is …” question is a challenge of ontology, and may not cover the “why …” question coming from the perspective of teleology or the “how …” question coming from the history and philosophy of science.

I appreciate that novices like definitions.  In a scholarly style, I generally cite descriptions by individual thinkers who each have a system of ideas.  In an attempt to appreciate commonalities and differences between prominent figures in the systems movement, I had been hosting a series of Systems Sciences Connections Conversations aimed at traversing social ties between individuals.  As a fun example, we asked Allenna Leonard if Stafford Beer and Jane Jacobs knew each other, as they both lived in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto.  Allenna’s response was, of course, they would see each other in places like the drug store.  Stafford Beer did use Cities and the Wealth of Nations as a foundation for his work in Uruguay, but there wasn’t really an occasion for ongoing collaboration.  Developing a network of systems of ideas is a more modest endeavour than trying to create a system of system of ideas.

Describing the world in objective entities isn’t the way I think.  I’m strongly influenced by the idea of reflexivity (described in the context of social theory on Wikipedia).  Pierre Bourdieu invited a path into his system of ideas as reflexive sociology.  George Soros has a general theory of reflexivity.

For descriptions in this domain — not definitions, for which a dictionary might be a better source — I’ll defer to International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics, edited by Charles François.  I have a copy of the 1997 first edition, which was superseded by a larger 2004 second edition that I haven’t seen.  Based on some entries in this encyclopedia, some Russell Ackoff readings, and my accumulated perspective on systems, I’ll make some assertions.

  • 1. Systems thinking and the systems sciences are parts of an ecology of knowledge
  • 2. Systems thinking prescribes an ordering of synthesis and analysis, emphasizing superordinates (containing wholes)
  • 3. The development of the “systems sciences” historically correlates with the rise of the “social systems sciences” program at the University of Pennsylvania
  • 4. The systems sciences have a heritages in cybernetics and general systems theory
  • 5. Systems thinking and the systems sciences manifest as systems approaches

For considerations of length, the Systems Science Working Group may split the content into two separate articles on systems science and systems methodology.

1. Systems thinking and the systems sciences are parts of an ecology of knowledge

Systems thinking and the systems science could be seen as subfields of knowledge.  They’re related, yet distinct.  Applying systems thinking on describing systems thinking leads to describing an ecology.

ECOLOGY of KNOWLEDGE

“The study of pattern of interrelationships among the various “species” (subsystems, sub-subsystems, etc.) and fields and subfields of knowledge with emphasis on:

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