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Hypotheses Concerning Living Systems | James Grier Miller

Towards a general theory of living systems, we should be looking beyond the singletons of a hierarchical level, i.e. (i) cell, (ii) organ, (iii) organism, (iv) group, (v) organization, (vi) community, (vii) society, and (viii) supranational level.

In a scientific approach, James Grier Miller created a list of hypotheses.  In the 1100+ page book, the hypotheses were not proved or disproved.  However, reviewing some of the hypotheses presents interesting questions as to whether an espoused systems thinker is actually sweeping in knowledge across multiple types of systems, or just reducing scope to a single system or type of system.

In this chapter I focus attention on hypotheses which apply to two or more levels of systems, because of their powerful generality. These are more than propositions of systems theory: they are general systems theoretical hypotheses. Several of the assertions I have made in my fundamental statement of general living systems theory in the preceding two chapters are, of course, cross-level hypotheses or propositions of this sort. Such, for instance, is the assertion that all living systems which survive have all the critical subsystems, or are parasitic upon or symbiotic with systems which do (see page 32).  [….]

Of the hypotheses stated below, some are probably true for all levels, some only for certain levels, some only if modified, and others are probably false. For some the question is: Is it true or false? For others the question is: Does it apply at a given level?

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A General Theory of Living Systems | James Grier Miller

When exploring the meaning of Living Systems, it’s pretty hard to ignore the major works of James Grier Miller (1916–2002) with a book thus titled.  In addition to the 1978 book Living Systems (of 1168 pages!) some additions were published in 1992 in Behavioral Science, the Journal of the Society for General Systems Research.

Miller cites Alfred North Whitehead as a spark for this research.

This book began sometime in its author’s prehistory — whenever an inclusive curiosity and a need to order and integrate arose. Hardly viable at first, the seminal ideas germinated during my college and graduate years, under the influence of one man particularly, my teacher, sponsor, and friend: Alfred North Whitehead. A number of these ideas stem directly from his “philosophy of organism.” Nowadays other terms are popular and, if he were alive today, he might prefer to call his viewpoint a “philosophy of system.” Key concepts later accepted as basic to systems science occur in his writings. Several sentences from his Science and the Modern World show how clearly his thought was a precursor of what today is called systems theory:1

  • 1 Whitehead, A. N. Science and the modern world. New York: Macmillan, 1925, 145, 146, 156.

“Science is taking on a new aspect which is neither purely physical, nor purely biological. It is becoming the study of organisms. Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.

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Living, Becoming, Process Philosophy: Systems Thinking in Time (ST-ON 2022-01-10)

System thinking, coming from roots in mainstream Western philosophy, tends to orient towards (i) thinking in space,  before (ii) thinking in time.  Structure is an arrangement in space.  Process is an arrangement in time.  A critical systems perspective leads us to think about inclusion within boundaries.  Does this lead us to overlook boundaries in time?

Living systems are a subtype of systems in general.  The capability for autonomous movement might lead us towards a philosophy of “becoming with” as “becoming alongside”.  This can lead us towards a challenging shift towards process philosophy.

Participants in Systems Thinking Ontario session were invited to discuss, and potentially reframe their view of systems.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
January 10
(1h32m)
[20220110_ST-ON LivingBecomingProcessPhilosophy_FHD.m4v]
(FHD 954kbps 718MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
January 10
(1h32m)
[20220110_ST-ON LivingBecomingProcessPhilosophy.mp3]
(34.1MB)

A short presentation provided some shared context for discussion.

Agenda:

  • A. Some Systems Thinking Basics
  • B. Hawk (1999):  Change of state vs. State of change
  • C. Ingold (2000): Temporality of the Landscape
  • D. Nayak & Chia (2011):  Process Philosophy
  • E. Discussion

Some who attended the session have read Process and Reality, by Alfred North Whitehead.  I haven’t. (It’s difficult!)  I’m leaning more on readings theorizing living systems.

Here is the content from the original announcement.

Structure is an arrangement in space.… Read more (in a new tab)

System thinking, coming from roots in mainstream Western philosophy, tends to orient towards (i) thinking in space,  before (ii) thinking in time.  Structure is an arrangement in space.  Process is an arrangement in time.  A critical systems perspective leads us to think about inclusion within boundaries.  Does this lead us to overlook boundaries in time?

Living systems are a subtype of systems in general.  The capability for autonomous movement might lead us towards a philosophy of “becoming with” as “becoming alongside”.  This can lead us towards a challenging shift towards process philosophy.

Participants in Systems Thinking Ontario session were invited to discuss, and potentially reframe their view of systems.

This video has been archived on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
January 10
(1h32m)
[20220110_ST-ON LivingBecomingProcessPhilosophy_FHD.m4v]
(FHD 954kbps 718MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Audio downloadable onto mobile devices was transcoded from the video into MP3.

Audio
January 10
(1h32m)
[20220110_ST-ON LivingBecomingProcessPhilosophy.mp3]
(34.1MB)

A short presentation provided some shared context for discussion.

Agenda:

  • A. Some Systems Thinking Basics
  • B. Hawk (1999):  Change of state vs. State of change
  • C. Ingold (2000): Temporality of the Landscape
  • D. Nayak & Chia (2011):  Process Philosophy
  • E. Discussion

Some who attended the session have read Process and Reality, by Alfred North Whitehead.  I haven’t. (It’s difficult!)  I’m leaning more on readings theorizing living systems.

Here is the content from the original announcement.

Structure is an arrangement in space.… Read more (in a new tab)

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