Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Appreciating systems changes via multiparadigm inquiry (SRBS)

An article related to the ISSS plenary talk of July 2022 has now passed the peer review process, and is published in early view for Systems Research and Behavioral Science.  It should shortly be printed in the November issue of SRBS that serves as the General Systems Yearbook.

Update on Nov. 22, 2023: A full-text, read-only version is available via the author on Article Share

Those without institutional access to journals can contact me, and I’ll send you a copy.  The article is otherwise embargoed until September 2025, at which point it can be self-archived with open access on the Coevolving Commons publications website.

The process of review, with a helpful editor, sharpens and shortens the content.  This formally published version is about 5,000 words.  The original manuscript that appears in the 2022 proceedings is about 15,000 words.  Since I cite a lot of published works of others, I prefer to embed long quotations from the original sources, so that I can keep the original meanings clear.  The extra details enable a diligent reader to not have to cross-reference and look up extended research sources, at the risk of being tedious for researchers who are familiar with that territory.

The article concludes with the following acknowledgement;

This research has been guided since 2019 by the core members of the Systems Changes Learning Circle: Zaid Khan, Dan Eng and Kelly Okamura. We have benefitted by the largess offered on the Open Learning Commons and Digital Life Collective by Robert Best.

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Sustainable Technology and the Entropy Argument | Mohammed Badrah, Kelly Okamura, David Hawk | Systems Thinking Ontario 2023-09-11

In a return to original Systems Thinking Ontario format, we reviewed an (old) systems thinking paper from 1998. Mohammed Badrah served as reviewer. Kelly Okamura was the discussant. The author, David Hawk, was available during the discussion period for extended knowledge.

As compared to prior Systems Thinking Ontario sessions with the word “entropy” in the title, the discussion was not on the scientific interpretations of the second law of thermodynamics, but instead on behaviours of human beings related to their social environments.

This recording of the session is available on Youtube, as well as on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
September 11
[20230911_ST-ON SustainableTechEntropyArgument Badrah_Okamura_Hawk 1920×1030.m4v]
(FHD 1920×1080 1162kbps 876MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

A standalone audio was also created during the meeting.

September 11
[20230911_ST-ON SustainableTechEntropyArgument Badrah_Okamura_Hawk.m4a]
(87 MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Here is the original abstract sent in advance.

— begin abstract —

Humans beings have significant problems in being human. The difficulties are manifest in many ways but generally begin with the way in which humans relate to their environment. The potentials for improvements in these relations are great but so too are the difficulties. This is in part because of serious shortcomings in how the resources essential to human existence are conceptualized and managed. These shortcomings are similar to those raised by General Systems Theorists fifty years ago. Noteworthy successes were limited, therefore the problems continue.… Read more (in a new tab)

Sciencing and Philosophizing on Threads in Systems Thinking | Gary S. Metcalf + David Ing | Systems Thinking Ontario 2023-07-10

Digging into philosophies underlying the systems sciences, pragmatism seems to have been a strong historical foundation for some research streams. In ongoing discussions, Gary Metcalf and I have been approaching pragmatism from two directions. Gary has been tracking from mid-1800s forward, listening to the audiobook The Metaphysical Club, with a history of figures living through the American Civil War, seeking alternative approaches to the British and continental European ideas. I have been working backwards on two streams.  (1) West Churchman and Russell Ackoff were students of Edgar A. Singer Jr., who was a father of a pragmatic school of thought at the University of Pennsylvania, having previously taught with William James at Harvard University.  (2) Eric Trist and Fred Emery, in the development of the Socio-Ecological Systems perspective, track back to Stephen C. Pepper, who studied under Ralph Barton Perry, an associate of William James who is recognized for anthologizing and clarifying James’ writing.

The ISSS Kruger Park 2023 meeting was an opportunity for us to share our work in progress.  Tracing the institutional lineages of some of the key figures of interest shows periods when the philosophers and systems scientists had formal appointments to the same places.

Institutional lineages of key figures in systems sciences and pragmatism

Notable institions include Harvard U., U. Pennsylvania, and the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations.  The many decades give a sense of the time scales (e.g. Pepper arrived at U.C. Berkeley much before Churchman; Trist and Emery were together at Tavistock, and visited Ackoff at U.… Read more (in a new tab)

Nonrelativistic pragmatism and systems thinking

The ties between systems thinking and pragmatism are apparently strong, but the breadth in the philosophy of pragmatism can be confusing.  Within the tradition, one of the threads is called nonrelativistic pragmatism, proposed by systems luminaries C. West Churchman with Russell L. Ackoff, descending from the work of philosopher Edgar A. Singer, Jr.

A concise description of nonrelativistic pragmatism might be as a branch that centers on the entanglement of facts and values, within philosophy of science.  This centering surfaces in an interview of Hilary Putnam, expanded from the two into a “triple entanglement of theory, value, and fact”.

My alma mater was the University of Pennsylvania. The first teacher who really influenced me there was a pragmatist. His is an interesting story. His name was C. West Churchman. (I do not know what his first name was, because he obviously did not like it.) He was a philosopher of science for a while, but then he eventually left the field of philosophy, and became Professor of Operations Research at the University of California. He was a pragmatist, and he was a student – which makes me a “grandstudent” – of a philosopher named E. A. Singer Jr., who was in turn a student of William James. Singer created a pragmatist tradition at the University of Pennsylvania. The other pragmatist at that point – she did not even have tenure, she was just an assistant professor but later she became a full professor – was Elizabeth Flower.

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C. West Churchman on the I Ching

A luminary in the systems movement, C. West Churchman, showed some respect for Chinese philosophy, with the I Ching (Yi Jing) in particular.

Deborah Hammond was encouraged by West Churchman into joining and becoming a historian of the systems movement.  In her 2003 book, Hammond wrote of her conversations with Churchman, back into his days with the Society for General Systems Research (SGSR).

— begin excerpt from Hammond (2003)

Historical Roots of Systems Thinking

C. West Churchman, who first introduced me to the general-systems community, was a longtime member and former president of the SGSR and has written extensively on the topic of systems thinking. His own professional evolution is typical of the intellectual richness of the tradition. He describes himself as an intellectual grandson of William James, having studied philosophy with a student of James’s by the name of E. A. Singer. During World War II, he was actively involved with the development of operations research, going on to spend much of his professional career teaching in the School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. After retirement (and into his early eighties), he continued to work in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program, teaching courses on ethics.[17] [p. 12]

  • [17] See C. West Churchman, The Design of Inquiring Systems (1971), The Systems Approach (1979), and The Systems Approach and Its Enemies (1979). He was the primary author, with Russell Ackoff and Leonard Arnoff, of Introduction to Operations Research (1957), one of the first textbooks in the new field.
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Systems Thinking, 1969 | David L. Hawk, John Pourdehnad | Systems Thinking Ontario 2023-06-12

The 1969 publication of Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, edited by Fred E. Emery as a Penguin Modern Management paperback, can be regarded as a milestone.  The articles date from the 1940s to the 1960s, when the first wave of systems thinking was on the rise.

For the June session of Systems Thinking Ontario, we stepped through a wiki digest of the book highlights, with two invited discussants.  David L. Hawk (Ph.D. 1973) and John Pourdehnad (Ph.D. 1982) were both graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania.  In the Social Systems Science program led by Russell Ackoff, eminent visitors such as Fred Emery were frequent guest lecturers.

This session covered some basic idea in sections of the book, filled with colour commentary on personal history associated with systems researchers in the 1970s.

This recording of the session is available on Youtube, as well as on the Internet Archive .

Video H.264 MP4
June 12
[20230612_ST-ON SystemsThinking1969_FHD.mp4]
(FHD 1920×1080 914kbps 861MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

A standalone audio was also created during the meeting.

June 12
[20230612_ST-ON SystemsThinking1969.m4a]
(106 MB)
[on the Internet Archive]

Here is the original abstract sent in advance.

It’s been over 50 years, since the publication of the first edition of Systems Thinking: Selected Readings, a Penguin Modern Management paperback reader edited by Fred E. Emery.

From the selected readings, have we moved beyond that milestone? … Read more (in a new tab)

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