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File:System boundary.svg

For different uses of the word system see: Systems (disambiguation)

System (from Latin systēma, in turn from Greek σύστημα systēma) is a set of interacting or interdependent entities, real or abstract, forming an integrated whole.

The concept of an "integrated whole" can also be stated in terms of a system embodying a set of relationships which are differentiated from relationships of the set to other elements, and from relationships between an element of the set and elements not a part of the relational regime.

The scientific research field which is engaged in the study of the general properties of systems include systems theory, systems science and systemics. They investigate the abstract properties of the matter and organization, searching concepts and principles which are independent of the specific domain, substance, type, or temporal scales of existence.

Most systems share the same common characteristics. These common characteristics include the following

  • Systems are abstractions of reality.
  • Systems have structure which is defined by its parts and their composition.
  • Systems have behavior, which involves inputs, processing and outputs of material, information or energy.
  • The various parts of a system have functional as well as structural relationships between each other.

The term system may also refer to a set of rules that governs behavior or structure.

History Edit

The term System has a long history which can be traced back to the Greek language.

In the 19th century the first to develop the concept of a "system" in the natural sciences was the French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot who studied thermodynamics. In 1824 he studied what he called the working substance (system), i.e. typically a body of water vapor, in steam engines, in regards to the system's ability to do work when heat is applied to it. The working substance could be put in contact with either a boiler, a cold reservoir (a stream of cold water), or a piston (to which the working body could do work by pushing on it). In 1850, the German physicist Rudolf Clausius generalized this picture to include the concept of the surroundings and began to use the term "working body" when referring to the system.

One of the pioneers of the general systems theory was the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. In 1945 he introduced models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relation or 'forces' between them.[1]

Significant development to the concept of a system was done by Norbert Wiener and Ross Ashby who pioneered the use of mathematics to study systems [2][3].

In the 1980s the term complex adaptive system was coined at the interdisciplinary Santa Fe Institute by John H. Holland, Murray Gell-Mann and others.

System concepts Edit

Environment and boundaries
Systems theory views the world as a complex system of interconnected parts. We scope a system by defining its boundary; this means choosing which entities are inside the system and which are outside - part of the environment. We then make simplified representations (models) of the system in order to understand it and to predict or impact its future behavior. These models may define the structure and/or the behaviour of the system.
Natural and man-made systems
There are natural and man-made (designed) systems. Natural systems may not have an apparent objective but their outputs can be interpreted as purposes. Man-made systems are made with purposes that are achieved by the delivery of outputs. Their parts must be related; they must be “designed to work as a coherent entity” - else they would be two or more distinct systems
Open system
An open system usually interacts with some entities in their environment. A closed system is isolated from its environment.
Process and transformation process
A system can also be viewed as a bounded transformation process, that is, a process or collection of processes that transforms inputs into outputs. Inputs are consumed; outputs are produced. The concept of input and output here is very broad. E.g., an output of a passenger ship is the movement of people from departure to destination.
Subsystem
A subsystem is a set of elements, which is a system itself, and a part of a larger system.

Types of systems Edit

Evidently, there are many types of systems of interest to psychologists that can be analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. These would include:


For example, with an analysis of urban systems dynamics, [A.W. Steiss] [4] defines five intersecting systems, including the physical subsystem and behavioral system. For sociological models influenced by systems theory, where Kenneth D. Bailey [5] defines systems in terms of conceptual, concrete and abstract systems; either isolated, closed, or open, Walter F. Buckley [6] defines social systems in sociology in terms of mechanical, organic, and process models. Bela H. Banathy [7] cautions that with any inquiry into a system that understanding the type of system is crucial and defines Natural and Designed systems.

In offering these more global definitions, the author maintains that it is important not to confuse one for the other. The theorist explains that natural systems include sub-atomic systems, living systems, the solar system, the galactic system and the Universe. Designed systems are our creations, our physical structures, hybrid systems which include natural and designed systems, and our conceptual knowledge. The human element of organization and activities are emphasized with their relevant abstract systems and representations. A key consideration in making distinctions among various types of systems is to determine how much freedom the system has to select purpose, goals, methods, tools, etc. and how widely is the freedom to select distributed (or concentrated) in the system.

George J. Klir [8] maintains that no "classification is complete and perfect for all purposes," and defines systems in terms of abstract, real, and conceptual physical systems, bounded and unbounded systems, discrete to continuous, pulse to hybrid systems, et cetera. The interaction between systems and their environments are categorized in terms of absolutely closed systems, relatively closed, and open systems. The case of an absolutely closed system is a rare, special case. Important distinctions have also been made between hard and soft systems.[9] Hard systems are associated with areas such as systems engineering, operations research and quantitative systems analysis. Soft systems are commonly associated with concepts developed by Peter Checkland through Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) involving methods such as action research and emphasizing participatory designs. Where hard systems might be identified as more "scientific," the distinction between them is actually often hard to define.

Cultural system Edit

Main article: Cultural system

A cultural system, for example the caste system may be defined as the interaction of different elements of culture. While a cultural system is quite different from a social system, sometimes both systems together are referred to as the sociocultural system. A major concern in the social sciences is the problem of order. One way that social order has been theorized is according to the degree of integration of cultural and social factors.

Economic system Edit

Main article: Economic system

An economic system is a mechanism (social institution) which deals with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services in a particular society. The economic system is composed of people, institutions and their relationships to resources, such as the convention of property. It addresses the problems of economics, like the allocation and scarcity of resources.

Application of the system concept Edit

Systems modeling is generally a basic principle in engineering and in social sciences. The system is the representation of the entities under concern. Hence inclusion to or exclusion from system context is dependent of the intention of the modeler.

No model of a system will include all features of the real system of concern, and no model of a system must include all entities belonging to a real system of concern.

Systems in information and computer science Edit

In computer science and information science, system could also be a method or an algorithm. Again, an example will illustrate: There are number systems of counting, as with Roman numerals, and various systems for filing papers, or catalogues, and various library systems, of which the Dewey Decimal System is an example. This still fits with the definition of components which are connected together (in this case in order to facilitate the flow of information).

System can also be used referring to a framework, be it computer software or computer hardware, designed to allow software programs to run, see platform.


Systems in social and cognitive sciences and management research Edit

Social and cognitive sciences recognize systems in human person models and in human societies. They include human brain functions and human mental processes as well as normative ethics systems and social/cultural behavioral patterns.

In management science, operations research and organizational development (OD), human organizations are viewed as systems (conceptual systems) of interacting components such as subsystems or system aggregates, which are carriers of numerous complex processes and organizational structures. Organizational development theorist Peter Senge developed the notion of organizations as systems in his book The Fifth Discipline.

Systems thinking is a style of thinking/reasoning and problem solving. It starts from the recognition of system properties in a given problem. It can be a leadership competency. Some people can think globally while acting locally. Such people consider the potential consequences of their decisions on other parts of larger systems. This is also a basis of systemic coaching in psychology.

Organizational theorists such as Margaret Wheatley have also described the workings of organizational systems in new metaphoric contexts, such as quantum physics, chaos theory, and the self-organization of systems.

See also Edit


References Edit

  1. 1945, Zu einer allgemeinen Systemlehre, Blätter für deutsche Philosophie, 3/4. (Extract in: Biologia Generalis, 19 (1949), 139-164.
  2. 1948, Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Paris, France: Librairie Hermann & Cie, and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. 1956. An Introduction to Cybernetics, Chapman & Hall.
  4. Steiss 1967, p.8-18.
  5. Bailey, 1994.
  6. Buckley, 1967.
  7. Banathy, 1997.
  8. Klir 1969, pp. 69-72
  9. Checkland 1997; Flood 1999.

Further reading Edit

  • Alexander Backlund (2000). "The definition of system". In: Kybernetes Vol. 29 nr. 4, pp. 444-451.
  • Kenneth D. Bailey (1994). Sociology and the New Systems Theory: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis. New York: State of New York Press.
  • Bela H. Banathy (1997). "A Taste of Systemics", ISSS The Primer Project.
  • Walter F. Buckley (1967). Sociology and Modern Systems Theory, New Jersey: Englewood Cliffs.
  • Peter Checkland (1997). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  • Robert L. Flood (1999). Rethinking the Fifth Discipline: Learning within the unknowable. London: Routledge.
  • George J. Klir (1969). Approach to General Systems Theory, 1969.

External links Edit


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