Trends in General Systems Theory

George J. Klir
ISBN:
047149190X

The developing family of ideas and concepts which fall roughly under the rubric of systems theory amounts to a profound revolution in science-a revo lution which will transform human thought as deeply as did the earlier ones of Galileo and Newton The volume under review represents an attempt to provide an overariewo f these ideas, as they appear from present perspeetives Unlike earlier scientific revolutions, the ideas of systems theow haare not arisen within a single discipline. On the contrary, systems concepts have simultaneously arisen frnm a host nf interand intradisciplinary specialties; from mathematics, computer scienees control theory, biology? linguistics? and many of the human sciencese This diversity makes the subject tnultiply difficult; if the rirtue of systems concepts is that they provide new and fruitful modes of unification binding together apparently unrelated sciences, the corresponding defect of that virtue is that the concepts musts at presents be extracted from a multiplicity of speci- alized literatures each with its own jargon and emphasls Moreover, it is in the nature of organized systems that they present themselves differently to different observers, the parable vf the blind men and the elephant is really a parable about systems. The volume under review seeks to circumvent these difflculties; its cumuw lative thrust is to exhibit what it is about systems and organizations that transcends the mass of sl?ecific struc tural details which inevitably accom panies any individual system, and which allows systems of utterly diverse stru tures to be studied in tlie same lighte In a sense the overall spirit and intentions are much like that of axiomatization m mathematics; once the group axioms, for example are laid down then immediately a host of specific mathematical structures, whatever the nature of their elements, can be seen as representations or realizations of a common abstract system. In thls way, a theorem about abstract groups simultaneously reaches into all branches of mathematics and allows information from any one part of mathematics to be transferred into all the other parts. In the same way the study of the essence of organization and control, which-is the concern of systems theory, touches every branch of science and enables us to formulate laws and principles which illuminate many apparently unrelated fields At the present time, systems theory is in an exceedingly exciting, dynamical phase- of growth No book can hope fully to capture this dynamism; at best tt can offer us a snapshot exhibiting how the field appears at a particular instant of time. Indeed, the volume under review offers us a series of such snapshots, each taken from a rather diSerent angle. But just as with an ordi nary photograph, each such snapshot inevitably involves distortions of perspective and leaves even very large and important structures hidden behind smaller but more proximate ones. The multiplicity of snapshots helps correct for such problems, but cannot in the present nature of things eliminate them. Thus anyone involved with systems will Inevltably have some quarrels over choice and emphasis of materials To specify a few of mine (i) biology and linguisticst which have introduced a host of profound ideas into systems theory, are rather badly scouted; (ii) in several long discussions of systerns analogiess the mechano-optical analoqgy of Hamiltoni(which until now-is by far the most important) is not even mentioned; (iii) the final chapters on ex tended topology, though most interesting in itself, is only minimally related to the main thrust of the bookS (iv) problems of systems opistemology and alternate modes of system description are hardly touched on Neverthelesss there is much to praise ;n this booke The bibliographies alone are of enormous value in a subject as far flung as systems theory The individual contributions are in the main well chosenS with many truly excellent expository discussions (particularly by Lofgrens Rapoport WeinbergS and von Bertalanffy) and provocative formulations of basic ideas and concepts. And even though, as indicated above, some areryi mportanti deas about systems may not be adequately discussed {and some unimportanto nes ourerstressed)m ost of the main currents in system-theoretic thought are in fact representede Tn sum, I feel that this volume should be required reading for anyone inter ested in the natural and human sciences, in philosophy, or in human thought in general. It should be read by each individual through the eyes of his own-discipline; the reader should examine eactl concept, seeklng specific instances and examples within his field. He should then compare his own examples Wittl those given m the book (which will generally involve other disciplines) to see how the general con cepts prouride a link which transcends disciplinary boundaries while simultaneously enriching all of them. It is to be hoped that many readers will be impelled to do more than this; that they will look further within their own specialties for new modes of thought, which will ultimately broaden their own insights, systems theory itself, and thus ultimately all of science.

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