- Ludwig von
- Excerpted from
- General Systems Theory
- "Modern science is
characterized by its ever-increasing specialization, necessitated
by the enormous amount of data, the complexity of techniques
and of theoretical structures within every field. Thus science
is split into innumerable disciplines continually generating
new subdisciplines. In consequence, the physicist, the biologist,
the psychologist and the social scientist are, so to speak, encapusulated
in their private universes, and it is difficult to get word from
one cocoon to the other..."
- "Entities of an essentially new sort are
entering the sphere of scientific thought. Classical science
in its diverse disciplines, be it chemistry, biology, psychology
or the social sciences, tried to isolate the elements of the
observed universe - chemical compounds and enzymes, cells, elementary
sensations, freely competing individuals, what not -- expecting
that, by putting them together again, conceptually or experimentally,
the whole or system - cell, mind, society - would result and
be intelligible. Now we have learned that for an understanding
not only the elements but their interrelations as well are required..."
- "It is necessary to study not only parts
and processes in isolation, but also to solve the decisive problems
found in organization and order unifying them, resulting from
dynamic interaction of parts, and making the the behavoir of
the parts different when studied in isolation or within the whole..."
- General system theory, therefore, is a general
science of "wholeness...The meaning of the somewhat mystical
expression, "The whole is more that the sum of its parts"
is simply that constitutive characteristics are not explanable
from the characteristics of the isolated parts. The characteristics
of the complex, therefore, appear as "new" or "emergent"...
- We can also say: While we can conceive of a sum
being composed gradually, as system as total of parts with its
interrelations has to be conceived of as being composed instantly..."
- "In our considerations we started with a
general definition of "systems" defined as a "set
of elements standing in interrelations... No special hypothesis
or statement were made about the nature of the system, of its
elements or the relations between them. Nevertheless from this
purely formal definition of "system" many properties
follow which in part are expressed in laws well-known in various
fields of science, and in part concern concepts previously regarded
as anthropomorphic, vitalistic. or metaphysical. The parallelism
of general conceptions or even special laws in different fields
therefore is a consequence of the fact that those are concerned
with "systems" and that certain general principles
apply to systems irrespective of their nature...
- There appear to exist general system laws which
apply to any system of a particular type, irrespective of the
particular properties of the systems and the elements involved.
- Compared to the analytical procedure of classical
science with resolution into component elements and one-way or
linear causality as basic category, the investigation of organized
wholes of many variables requires new categories of interaction,
transaction, organization, teleology..."
- "These considerations lead to the postulate
of a new scientific discipline which we call general system theory.
It's subject matter is formulation of principles that are valid
for "systems" in general, whatever the nature of the
component elements and the relations or "forces" between
- "It seems, therefore, that a general theory
of systems would be a useful tool and providing on the one hand,
models that can be used in, and transferred to, different fields,
and safeguarding, on the other hand, from vague analogies which
often have marred the progress in these fields."
- Perspectives of General Systems Theory by
Ludwig von Bertalanffy.
- From the Foreward by Ervin
- "Thus when von Bertalanffy spoke of Allgemeine
Systemtheorie it was consistent with his view that he
was proposing a new perspective, a new way of doing science.
It was not directly consistent with an interpretation often put
on "general system theory," to wit, that it is a (scientific)
"theory of general systems." To criticize it as such
is to shoot at straw men. Von Bertalanffy opened up something
much broader and of much greater significance than a single theory
(which, as we now know, can always be falsified and has usually
an ephemeral existence): he created a new paradigm for the development
- See Also
- WELTANSCHAUUNG 2001