(Actually published a week or so ago as a “page” for no good reason – so now as a “post”. In fact was really an early draft of a longer piece, now I have all three presentations mentioned in the final para at “END” below, before all the other post-notes.)
I’ve elaborated my own systems position once or twice before. The idea of systems referring to any “control volume of current interest”, internally and/or environmentally, were ubiquitous from my earliest education and experience, earliest schooldays even. No brainer, just a word for things that involved stuff happening. Not a word I would have worried about “defining” beyond natural language dictionary usage, and still don’t. It’s just about looking at things in terms of their functional relations with other internal and external things. How hard can it be? If something’s complex in time and space, the first step is to think about it systematically. Systems are a response to complexity of multiple things interacting some level of independence, enough to make them a distinct-but-connected thing.
When I started this research quest in 2001, over two decades now on top of over two decades of prior technical / engineering / management experience that involved “modelling” and “implementing” systems, it was Cybernetics that first caught my eye as the formal discipline for thinking about things the systems way. And it stood out from the start because despite the robotic / machine baggage the “cyber” term had picked-up in popular consciousness, it was absolutely clear it was primarily about the human animal and society from it’s conception by 1946 Macy participants, elaborated subsequently by Wiener. It’s why I switched “cyber” to “psyber” in my own work, most communications within and between humans involve the mental. The physical bit is the easy bit.
As we’ve noticed, systems are a response to complexity, and cybernetics is a name for formally considering that in the widest context of human affairs on the planet. Obviously that involves every discipline of knowledge and action known to man. And of course lots of that knowledge was known to man before Cybernetics was coined. There’s nothing new under the sun, it’s all footnotes to Plato anyway. And yet organisation of academic disciplines and communities of practice have spawned any number of competing fields for their different contexts, which given their huge overlapping interests is a recipe for turf-wars. Whose field is the more general or valuable superset of the others?
- Complexity Science
- Systems Science(s) / Systems Engineering and/or Applied Systems Science
- Operations Research / Community (or Social Systems) Operations Research / Management Science
Pleased to discover last night / this morning that plenty of others are concerned about finding more constructive progress for humanity than turf-wars.
However you attempt to fit such things within a shared ontology of disciplines is moot. But I think there are two touch-points where I think we might all agree. The first is that the point at which the rubber hits the road is about doing – about implementing action in this world. Everything before that is some level of abstraction. Thinking in terms of planning and designing the doing. Thinking about the processes and methods of planning and designing (and doing). Thinking about thinking itself – “think before you think”. This latter touch point is about understanding the whole and recognising that the whole is more than just science and engineering. Philosophy. Metaphysics, Ontology and Epistemology. “Epistemological Ontology” as I’ve claimed before, or “Epistemontolgy” as coined by Matthew Shapiro last night.
This morning, it was following-up Stuart Umpleby’s comparison of the different constituencies bulleted above, where they overlap and what makes each distinctive. Discovering that there is another umbrella organisation called WOSC to add to INCOSE and ISSS and …
World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics
WOSC was was founded in 1969, with the desire to support the communication of individuals and organisations related to systems thinking and cybernetics worldwide.
Good news is it doesn’t restrict itself to science and engineering, in name or description, indeed has “systems thinking” in its description alongside the cybernetics. We can avoid the ultimate turf-war between Science (STEM) and the rest of humanity in the world.
Last night and this morning were an ISSS session with presentations (and follow-up) by Stuart Umpleby, Gary Smith and Arantzazu Saratxaga Arregi. Have Gary’s slides – a selection from his previous thorough job on surveying the whole landscape above. Will link when I have all three.
Previously on Psybertron – I’ve suggested – before I’d heard of WOSC – we need a language to cover the whole, above and beyond the limitations of Science (STEM).
ISSS Washington conference – maybe a paper or led-discussion workshop?
“Finding Language to join-up those with focus on the science and those focussing on the humanistic (intuitive / tacit / spiritual / subjective) aspects of systems-in-action.”
Maybe seeing the International Society for Systems Sciences (ISSS) evolving to being the “International Society for Understanding Systems” (ISUS)
There can be no single Ontology / Glossary, our language needs to span many levels of abstraction.
And this post is effectively part of this series of 4, now 5, very much reinforcing the original proposal, that need to be consolidated into a single “paper”.
1 More than (Orthodox) Science ?
2 Humanistic Cybernetics ?
3 Synergy or Emergence ?
4 What’s in a name (Psybernetics) ?
(All my posts are connected, obviously, but these 4 (now 5) specifically form a linked thread. They reflect a real-life developing dialogue, but there is a logical dialectic in the argument, so in order, do not pass go, etc. And because they were written as four (now five) stand-alone posts, there’s a fair bit of repetition in content and preamble – clearly can condense into one paper shorter than the sum of the five.)