Guide Self-Organization. Theories and Methods

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Sociological systems thinking started earlier, in the 19th century.

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Stichweh states: [3] " Since its beginnings the social sciences were an important part of the establishment of systems theory Elements of systems thinking can also be seen in the work of James Clerk Maxwell , in particular control theory. Odum , Eugene Odum and Fritjof Capra , organizational theory and management with individuals such as Peter Senge , interdisciplinary study with areas like Human Resource Development from the work of Richard A. Swanson , and insights from educators such as Debora Hammond and Alfonso Montuori. As a transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and multiperspectival domain, the area brings together principles and concepts from ontology , philosophy of science , physics , computer science , biology and engineering as well as geography , sociology , political science , psychotherapy within family systems therapy and economics among others.

Systems theory thus serves as a bridge for interdisciplinary dialogue between autonomous areas of study as well as within the area of systems science itself. In this respect, with the possibility of misinterpretations, von Bertalanffy [6] believed a general theory of systems "should be an important regulative device in science", to guard against superficial analogies that "are useless in science and harmful in their practical consequences".

Others remain closer to the direct systems concepts developed by the original theorists. For example, Ilya Prigogine , of the Center for Complex Quantum Systems at the University of Texas, Austin, has studied emergent properties , suggesting that they offer analogues for living systems. The theories of autopoiesis of Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana represent further developments in this field. Jackson , Katia Sycara , and Edgar Morin among others. With the modern foundations for a general theory of systems following World War I, Ervin Laszlo , in the preface for Bertalanffy's book: Perspectives on General System Theory , points out that the translation of "general system theory" from German into English has "wrought a certain amount of havoc": [7].

It General System Theory was criticized as pseudoscience and said to be nothing more than an admonishment to attend to things in a holistic way. Such criticisms would have lost their point had it been recognized that von Bertalanffy's general system theory is a perspective or paradigm, and that such basic conceptual frameworks play a key role in the development of exact scientific theory. Allgemeine Systemtheorie is not directly consistent with an interpretation often put on 'general system theory,' to wit, that it is a scientific "theory of general systems.

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 of theories. A system in this frame of reference can contain regularly interacting or interrelating groups of activities. For example, in noting the influence in organizational psychology as the field evolved from "an individually oriented industrial psychology to a systems and developmentally oriented organizational psychology ", some theorists recognize that organizations have complex social systems; separating the parts from the whole reduces the overall effectiveness of organizations.

Laszlo [10] explains that the new systems view of organized complexity went "one step beyond the Newtonian view of organized simplicity" which reduced the parts from the whole, or understood the whole without relation to the parts. The relationship between organisations and their environments can be seen as the foremost source of complexity and interdependence.

In most cases, the whole has properties that cannot be known from analysis of the constituent elements in isolation. In the most general sense, system means a configuration of parts connected and joined together by a web of relationships. The Primer Group defines system as a family of relationships among the members acting as a whole.

Von Bertalanffy defined system as "elements in standing relationship. Similar ideas are found in learning theories that developed from the same fundamental concepts, emphasising how understanding results from knowing concepts both in part and as a whole. In fact, Bertalanffy's organismic psychology paralleled the learning theory of Jean Piaget.

Some may view the contradiction of reductionism in conventional theory which has as its subject a single part as simply an example of changing assumptions. The emphasis with systems theory shifts from parts to the organization of parts, recognizing interactions of the parts as not static and constant but dynamic processes. Some questioned the conventional closed systems with the development of open systems perspectives.


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The shift originated from absolute and universal authoritative principles and knowledge to relative and general conceptual and perceptual knowledge [16] and still remains in the tradition of theorists that sought to provide means to organize human life. In other words, theorists rethought the preceding history of ideas ; they did not lose them. Mechanistic thinking was particularly critiqued, especially the industrial-age mechanistic metaphor for the mind from interpretations of Newtonian mechanics by Enlightenment philosophers and later psychologists that laid the foundations of modern organizational theory and management by the late 19th century.

System dynamics is an approach to understanding the nonlinear behaviour of complex systems over time using stocks, flows , internal feedback loops , and time delays. Systems biology is a movement that draws on several trends in bioscience research.

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Proponents describe systems biology as a biology-based inter-disciplinary study field that focuses on complex interactions in biological systems , claiming that it uses a new perspective holism instead of reduction. Particularly from the year onwards, the biosciences use the term widely and in a variety of contexts. An often stated ambition of systems biology is the modelling and discovery of emergent properties which represents properties of a system whose theoretical description requires the only possible useful techniques to fall under the remit of systems biology.

It is thought that Ludwig von Bertalanffy may have created the term systems biology in Systems ecology is an interdisciplinary field of ecology , a subset of Earth system science , that takes a holistic approach to the study of ecological systems, especially ecosystems.

Central to the systems ecology approach is the idea that an ecosystem is a complex system exhibiting emergent properties. Systems ecology focuses on interactions and transactions within and between biological and ecological systems, and is especially concerned with the way the functioning of ecosystems can be influenced by human interventions. It uses and extends concepts from thermodynamics and develops other macroscopic descriptions of complex systems. Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary approach and means for enabling the realisation and deployment of successful systems.

It can be viewed as the application of engineering techniques to the engineering of systems, as well as the application of a systems approach to engineering efforts. Systems engineering considers both the business and the technical needs of all customers, with the goal of providing a quality product that meets the user's needs. Systems psychology is a branch of psychology that studies human behaviour and experience in complex systems. It received inspiration from systems theory and systems thinking, as well as the basics of theoretical work from Roger Barker , Gregory Bateson , Humberto Maturana and others.

It makes an approach in psychology in which groups and individuals receive consideration as systems in homeostasis. Systems psychology "includes the domain of engineering psychology , but in addition seems more concerned with societal systems [26] and with the study of motivational, affective, cognitive and group behavior that holds the name engineering psychology. Whether considering the first systems of written communication with Sumerian cuneiform to Mayan numerals , or the feats of engineering with the Egyptian pyramids , systems thinking can date back to antiquity. Differentiated from Western rationalist traditions of philosophy, C.

West Churchman often identified with the I Ching as a systems approach sharing a frame of reference similar to pre-Socratic philosophy and Heraclitus.


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Leibniz and Nicholas of Cusa 's coincidentia oppositorum. While modern systems can seem considerably more complicated, today's systems may embed themselves in history. Figures like James Joule and Sadi Carnot represent an important step to introduce the systems approach into the rationalist hard sciences of the 19th century, also known as the energy transformation.

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Then, the thermodynamics of this century, by Rudolf Clausius , Josiah Gibbs and others, established the system reference model as a formal scientific object. West Churchman and others in the s, had specifically catalyzed by collaboration in. Cognizant of advances in science that questioned classical assumptions in the organizational sciences, Bertalanffy's idea to develop a theory of systems began as early as the interwar period, publishing "An Outline for General Systems Theory" in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science , Vol 1, No.

Where assumptions in Western science from Greek thought with Plato and Aristotle to Newton 's Principia have historically influenced all areas from the hard to social sciences see David Easton 's seminal development of the " political system " as an analytical construct , the original theorists explored the implications of twentieth century advances in terms of systems.

People have studied subjects like complexity , self-organization , connectionism and adaptive systems in the s and s. In fields like cybernetics, researchers such as Norbert Wiener , William Ross Ashby , John von Neumann and Heinz von Foerster , examined complex systems mathematically. John von Neumann discovered cellular automata and self-reproducing systems, again with only pencil and paper. At the same time Howard T. Odum , known as a radiation ecologist, recognized that the study of general systems required a language that could depict energetics , thermodynamics and kinetics at any system scale.

Odum developed a general system, or universal language , based on the circuit language of electronics , to fulfill this role, known as the Energy Systems Language. Between , Robert Maynard Hutchins at the University of Chicago had undertaken efforts to encourage innovation and interdisciplinary research in the social sciences, aided by the Ford Foundation with the interdisciplinary Division of the Social Sciences established in The systems view was based on several fundamental ideas.

This inter-level interaction is present in many areas of the social world. The challenge is understanding whether this inter-level interaction operates as a top-down form of control that thoroughly determine interaction, so as to prevent from calling the phenomenon autonomous. The notions of equilibrium, contract and order deal in particular ways with the four crucial factors of self-organization, depending on the theoretical-methodological frameworks of the disciplinary domains in which they are used.

It is important, first, to be able to reconstruct the theoretical insights of these traditions regarding self-organizing dynamics and, second, to understand how these different traditions can complement each other. Because of the reliance of economics on individual strategic decision-making, for example, the notion of equilibrium provides important insights regarding the notion of autonomy.

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Yet, as discussed, this tradition has neglected the moral foundations of action, which is a crucial aspect of the notion of contract, or how different top-down mechanism can also affect self-organizing dynamics, which is one of the focuses of the notion of order. Advances in the study of self-organizing phenomena depend greatly on how effectively these theoretical insights can be incorporated into formal computational and mathematical models. Not every insight can be formalized and, in turn, not every model can give full account of the four factors of self-organization: pattern formation, autonomy, robustness and resilience, and dynamics.

In social science, one major difficulty is the dynamic aspect of self-organizing phenomena. The study of self-organization in the social domain is hindered by the lack of longitudinal data. Technical, economic and moral difficulties posed for the collection of this data gives computational methods, where artificial data is created, a key role.

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The use of different computational methods brings to the fore the question about the patterned character of self-organization. Artificial data created by some computational methods, such as system dynamics, account for self-organizing phenomena in a similar way to traditional longitudinal methods regularly used in mainstream social science, either from a quantitative e. These methods account for the patterned character of self-organization through the identification and reconstruction on causal paths or trajectories, usually represented in different coordinate systems, such as time series or phase and state spaces.

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Other methods provide a different approach to the patterned character of self-organization, through a focus on the spatial and emergent character of self-organizing social phenomena. The urban layout of cities, for example, has traditionally been a recurrent topic on discussions about social self-organization and complexity theory, in general Urry ; Johnson Awareness on the spatial dimension is important because it can significantly affect the approach to the dynamic aspect of self-organization, which could translate in important variations in modelling choices.

While simple lattice models, such as cellular automata, for example, are clearly suitable for the analysis of the clustering produced in dynamics of aggregation and segregation, they are poor alternatives for the exploration of random walk dynamics. Mathematical, computational and hybrid methods allowing for the analysis of interaction over time e. This linkage provides a distinctive view on the autonomous character of the phenomena, which cannot be fully explored by methods focusing of causal paths or trajectories, for these methods usually lack an explicit representation of the relationship between the system and its subcomponents.


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The focus on interaction could also allow for a different exploration of the robustness and resilience of the system, for example, by introducing in a computer simulation some evolutionary dynamics e.