LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

March 8, 2009

Systems Theory Revisited

Filed under: Ch 05 Cyber Systems, Drafts — Tags: , , , — insomniac @ 1:35 pm

This past few weeks has been a whirlwind of revisiting, rediscovering and rewriting, not without some rethinking, but always focusing on a final draft. The process has been educational, for sure. However, the rewrites are going on behind the scenes, in another world, so to speak, and won’t necessarily get updated in this blog. So here is a quick update for the section on Systems Theory.

Although systems theory may have seen little application to biology in the United States, on the international scene there has been a steadily growing interest.

“The International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) is among the first and oldest organizations devoted to interdisciplinary inquiry into the nature of complex systems, and remains perhaps the most broadly inclusive. The Society was initially conceived in 1954 at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard, and Anatol Rapoport. In collaboration with James Grier Miller, it was formally established as an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1956.”

International Society for the Systems Sciences

I have been surprised and pleased that the scientists in this organization have come to many of the same conclusions about biological systems that i have.


“By definition, living systems are open, self-organizing systems that have the special characteristics of life and interact with their environment. This takes place by means of information and material-energy exchanges.”

The Living Systems Theory of James Grier Miller is described as an open system characterized by information and material flows. The properties ( or behavior) of a system as a whole emerge out of the interaction of the components comprising the system.

In the conceptual system developed by Miller, living systems form eight levels of organization and complexity:

The principal components are cells, in simple, multi-cellular systems; organs, which are groups of cells; organisms (there are three kinds of organisms: fungi, plants and animals); groups, which contain two or more organisms and their relationships; organizations, which involve one of more groups with their own control systems for doing work; communities, including both individual persons and groups; societies, which are loose associations of communities; and supranational systems, organizations of societies.

Regardless of their complexity, they each depend upon the same essential twenty subsystems (or processes) to survive and to continue the propagation of their species or types beyond a single generation. “The twenty subsystems that process information or material-energy or both account for the survival of living systems, at any level.” “Living Systems Theory is a general theory about how all living systems “work,” about how they maintain themselves and how they develop and change…”

It is both encouraging that this branch of science is still alive after fifty years, and discouraging that few scientists are aware of the implications.

Why aren’t they teaching Living Systems Theory in public schools? Here is something they could teach right along beside random mutation driven evolution that doesn’t have anything to do with religion, but would ease the transition to a more holistic understanding of living systems.


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