The General Systems theory rises out of the human need to live in an orderly, deterministic world. Systemists see the world as a hierarchy of systems ‘from sub-atomic particles to civilizations'(), while other branches of science study the characteristics and the laws that govern specific sub-systems, General Systems theory is a search for the ‘law of laws’; A holistic principle that would explain and be applicable to all systems. A system can be defined as a complex whole created out of the interaction of separable components.
Systems theory attempts to understand the principles that govern systems in general, without regard to the nature of the system, or the nature of the components of the system or their interrelationships (Skyttner, 2006). A system needs to have internal organization; it is not just a random assembly of elements. It is also not a set of elements all of which perform the same function, for a system to be a system, there has to be a division of labor among its components.
A system should be able to maintain continuity of identity and have specific functions or goals. Since the boundaries of a system cannot always be clearly defined it is difficult to come up with rigorous laws applicable to all systems, therefore it is sometimes necessary to speak of General Systems Thinking or General Systems Practice rather than General Systems Theory (Bertalanffy, 1975). Systems can generally be divided into two types: Static systems are systems that do not change over time or adapt to changing environments.
In accordance with the second law of thermodynamics which static systems generally wind down to their lowest state of energy over time i. e. stop working. A dynamic system can be said to have five general components: Input, Throughput, Output, Evaluation and Feedback. Of these the last two are unique to dynamic systems, static systems only have Inputs, Throughputs and Outputs. The Input of a system is the raw material or materials that are entered into a system.
For an Information System, the input is the raw data resources which are entered into the system. The Throughput of a system is the process or series or collection of internal processes through which the materials that form the input are converted into a form that is usable by the system itself or by the supra-system of which the system is a sub-system. The throughput of an information system may include tabulation, summarization and filtering of data.
The Output of a system is the end product of the throughput. The output of an information system may include such things as pie charts and line graphs. Evaluation is the determination of the success or failure of the output. In information systems this may be done by the human users of the system or by the automated processes of the system. Feedback is the input of the results of Evaluation into the system that may be used to effect changes in the primary input or the throughput of the system.
In an information system this may include a decision to have the output rendered in color, rather than black and white (Bertalanffy, 1975). Kenneth Boulding proposes a hierarchy of system complexity with nine types of systems differentiated according to their level of complexity, having static systems such as the atom at the bottom most tier and transcendental systems (such as God, fate, and destiny) on the top most tier.
Genetic societal systems such as plants occupy the fifth tier, Animals the sixth tier, humans and human societies form the seventh and the eighth tier respectively (Nechansky, 2010). According to Miller’s General Living Systems Theory, living systems exist at eight hierarchical levels; (1) cells (2) organs (3) organisms (4) groups (5) organizations (6) communities (7) societies and (8) supranational systems. A living system at any level must contain at least twenty critical sub-systems.
Two of these are matter-energy and information processing systems: (1) The Reproductive sub-system and (2) the Boundary sub-system (which keeps the whole living system together and protected). Eight are matter-energy processing sub-systems (3) Ingestor sub-system which is responsible for bringing essential matter or energy into the system (4) Distributer sub-system, which transfers the needed energy or matter from the Ingestor to all other component systems.
(5) Convertor sub-system, which converts raw input into more usable form (6) Producer sub-system which produces matter-energy from the outputs of the convertor for internal use of the system or as output of the system (7) Matter-Energy storage sub-system (8) Extruder sub-system which is responsible for expelling the waste or unneeded matter-energy (9) Motor sub-system which is responsible for internal or external movement in the system. (10) Supporter sub-system which provides the framework for other sub-systems.
Ten sub-systems deal with information processing: (11) Input Transducer which observes external states (12) Internal Transducer which observes the internal state of the system (13) Channel and net sub-system that transports data within the system (14) Timer, which enables synchronization of tasks (15) Decoder which converts all sensory data into one format (16) Associator which forms the basis of the learning process by forming associations between items of information (17) Memory (18) Decider which receives information from sub-systems and transmits them to information outputs that control the system (19) Encoder which translates the internal code into signals for other sub-systems (20) Output transducer which puts out information from within the system into the environment(Skyttner, 2006). Beer’s Viable Systems theory defines the characteristics of a viable system i. e.
one that is able to survive in a certain environment. According to Beer, a viable system contains five hierarchical sub-systems, (1) Operations: consisting of several basic activities (each of which is a viable system) (2) Co-ordination: consisting of information channels which allow system 1 activities to communicate with each other and system 3 to monitor them (3) Optimization: consisting of structures and controls which oversee the optimized operation of the system 1 and 2 processes (4) Strategy: which surveys the environment and makes plans for adaptation of the system to environmental changes (5) Policy: which makes decisions about the system as a whole (Skyttner, 2006).
These three models or theories of system structure do not conflict with each other but are complementary. For example we can say that an animal which is at the sixth level of system complexity is both a living system and a viable system (Nechansky, 2010). Works Cited Bertalanffy, L. V. (1975). Perspectives on general system theory: scientific-philosophical studies. New York: G. Braziller. Nechansky, H. (2010, January-Feburary). The Relationship Between: Miller’s Living Systems Theory and Beer’s Viable Systems Theory. Systems Research and Behavioral Science , 97-112. Skyttner, L. (2006). General Systems Theory 2nd ed. Hackensak, NJ: World Scientific Publishing Company.
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