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What is a system? (and the challenges of definition)

When asked “what is a system?”, a deep systems thinker may hesitate to respond.  He or she may be reflecting on whether the response should be “what does a system mean to you?”, or “what should a system mean to me”?  The systems thinker recognizes that meaning comes in a context, and is therefore associated with a system of ideas held by an individual (i.e. me or you) occurs within an environment (i.e. my experience or your experience).

In parallel, consider the question “what is a mother”?  If the questioner is asking for a thoroughly researched answer, perhaps the Oxford Dictionary definition for mother will be helpful.

mother

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth:
‘a mother penguin’
‘a mother of three’

2. (Mother, Mother Superior, or Reverend Mother) (especially as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community.

3. vulgar slang , chiefly North American short for motherfucker.

On the other hand, the responses to “what does a mother mean to you?” and “what does a mother mean to me?” draws on human experience. Every baby knows what a mother means to him or her, before language — or even coherent thought — develops. For that question, perhaps a poem serves better. Here’s one from Francis Cardinal Spelling (who was first named as Francis Joseph Spellman) .

What is a mother?

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When asked “what is a system?”, a deep systems thinker may hesitate to respond.  He or she may be reflecting on whether the response should be “what does a system mean to you?”, or “what should a system mean to me”?  The systems thinker recognizes that meaning comes in a context, and is therefore associated with a system of ideas held by an individual (i.e. me or you) occurs within an environment (i.e. my experience or your experience).

In parallel, consider the question “what is a mother”?  If the questioner is asking for a thoroughly researched answer, perhaps the Oxford Dictionary definition for mother will be helpful.

mother

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth:
‘a mother penguin’
‘a mother of three’

2. (Mother, Mother Superior, or Reverend Mother) (especially as a title or form of address) the head of a female religious community.

3. vulgar slang , chiefly North American short for motherfucker.

On the other hand, the responses to “what does a mother mean to you?” and “what does a mother mean to me?” draws on human experience. Every baby knows what a mother means to him or her, before language — or even coherent thought — develops. For that question, perhaps a poem serves better. Here’s one from Francis Cardinal Spelling (who was first named as Francis Joseph Spellman) .

What is a mother?

Read more (in a new tab)
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    • daviding: Very long article, o September 4, 2020
      Very long article, oriented towards policy change. Issues should be familiar to everyone on this platform (and appreciation of that is probably why you are here). #CoryDoctorow on Surveillance Capitalism https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59
    • daviding: A small wording shif July 27, 2020
      A small wording shift, yet I really like the idea on belonging rather than just including. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-want-a-more-diverse-work-force-move-beyond-inclusion-to-belonging/
    • daviding: On the post-pandemic July 18, 2020
      On the post-pandemic world, #MargaretAtwood says: > "this is like being in 1952, except with birth control and the internet".https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/opinion/2020/07/17/margaret-atwood-on-post-covid-hopes-plus-baking.html
    • daviding: Instead of using a t July 4, 2020
      Instead of using a text editor or Notepad on my computer for everyday work, I now use #Zettlr as a persistent scratchpad, a new page each day. The feature of creating #Markdown often helps in copy-and-paste to other applications. I haven't exercised #Zotero citations, yet, but probably will, shortly. > Roam let’s you manage knowledge, […]
    • daviding: The #GlobeAndMail ed June 29, 2020
      The #GlobeAndMail editorial declares that the brain drain of 15,000 Canadians to the United States between years 2000-2010 could be reversed, with corporations near-shoring northwards. > Canada already exerts a powerful pull on people from the rest of the world. A global Gallup survey, conducted from 2015 through 2017, shows Canada is one of the most […]
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    • 1969, 1981 Emery, System Thinking: Selected Readings
      Social Systems Science graduate students in 1970s-1980s with #RussellAckoff, #EricTrist + #HasanOzbehkhan at U. Pennsylvania Wharton School were assigned the Penguin paperback #SystemsThinking reader edited by #FredEEmery, with updated editions evolving contents.
    • 1968 Buckley, “Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist: A Sourcebook”
      Resurfacing 1968 Buckley, “Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist: A Sourcebook” for interests in #SystemsThinking #SocioCybernetics #GeneralSystemsTheory #OrganizationScience . Republication in 2017 hardcopy may be more complete.
    • Wholism, reductionism (Francois, 2004)
      Proponents of #SystemsThinking often espouse holism to counter over-emphasis on reductionism. Reading some definitions from an encyclopedia positions one in the context of the other (François 2004).
    • It matters (word use)
      Saying “it doesn’t matter” or “it matters” is a common expression in everyday English. For scholarly work, I want to “keep using that word“, while ensuring it means what I want it to mean. The Oxford English Dictionary (third edition, March 2001) has three entries for “matter”. The first two entries for a noun. The […]
    • Systemic Change, Systematic Change, Systems Change (Reynolds, 2011)
      It's been challenging to find sources that specifically define two-word phrases -- i.e. "systemic change", "systematic change", "systems change" -- as opposed to loosely inferring reductively from one-word definitions in recombination. MartinReynolds @OpenUniversity clarifies uses of the phrases, with a critical eye into motives for choosing a specific label, as well as associated risks and […]
    • Environmental c.f. ecological (Francois, 2004; Allen, Giampietro Little 2003)
      The term "environmental" can be mixed up with "ecological", when the meanings are different. We can look at the encyclopedia definitions (François 2004), and then compare the two in terms of applied science (i.e. engineering with (#TimothyFHAllen @MarioGiampietro and #AmandaMLittle, 2003).
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    • 2020/08 August 2020
      Moderate summer temperatures in a city normally overheated with activity, residents gradually emerging as public venues opened cautiously.
    • 2020/07 Moments July 2020
      Daytimes full of new work assignment and training, evenings and weekends bicycling around downtown Toronto as it slowly reopens from pandemic.
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