# Systems thinking

Systems thinking is a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts.[1][2] It has been used as a way of exploring and developing effective action in complex contexts,[3] enabling systems change.[4][5] Systems thinking draws on and contributes to systems theory and the system sciences.[6]

## History

### Ptolemaic system versus the Copernican system

The term system is polysemic: Robert Hooke (1674) used it in multiple senses, in his System of the World,[7]: p.24  but also in the sense of the Ptolemaic system versus the Copernican system[8]: 450  of the relation of the planets to the fixed stars[9] which are cataloged in Hipparchus' and Ptolemy's Star catalog.[10] Hooke's claim was answered in magisterial detail by Newton's (1687) Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Book three, The System of the World[11]: Book three  (that is, the system of the world is a physical system).[7]

Newton's approach, using dynamical systems continues to this day.[8] In brief, Newton's equations (a system of equations) have methods for their solution.

### Feedback control systems

By 1824 the Carnot cycle presented an engineering challenge, which was how to maintain the operating temperatures of the hot and cold working fluids of the physical plant.[12] In 1868 James Clerk Maxwell presented a framework for, and a limited solution to the problem of controlling the rotational speed of a physical plant.[13] Maxwell's solution echoed James Watt's (1784) centrifugal moderator (denoted as element Q) for maintaining (but not enforcing) the constant speed of a physical plant (that is, Q represents a moderator, but not a governor, by Maxwell's definition).[14][a]

Maxwell's approach, which linearized the equations of motion of the system, produced a tractable method of solution.[14]: 428–429  Norbert Wiener identified this approach as an influence on his studies of cybernetics[b] during World War II[14] and Wiener even proposed treating some subsystems under investigation as black boxes.[18]: 242  Methods for solutions of the systems of equations then become the subject of study, as in feedback control systems, in stability theory, in constraint satisfaction problems, the unification algorithm, type inference, and so forth.

### Applications

"So, how do we change the structure of systems to produce more of what we want and less of that which is undesirable? ... MIT’s Jay Forrester likes to say that the average manager can ... guess with great accuracy where to look for leverage points—places in the system where a small change could lead to a large shift in behavior".[19]: 146 Donella Meadows, (2008) Thinking In Systems: A Primer p.145 [c]

## Characteristics

...What is a system? A system is a set of things ... interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time. ... But the system’s response to these forces is characteristic of itself, and that response is seldom simple in the real world

[a system] is "an integrated whole even though composed of diverse, interacting, specialized structures and subjunctions"

— IEEE (1972)[17]: 582
• Subsystems serve as part of a larger system, but each comprises a system in its own right. Each frequently can be described reductively, with properties obeying its own laws, such as Newton's System of the World, in which entire planets, stars, and their satellites can be treated, sometimes in a scientific way as dynamical systems, entirely mathematically, as demonstrated by Johannes Kepler's equation (1619) for the orbit of Mars before Newton's Principia appeared in 1687.
• Black boxes are subsystems whose operation can be characterized by their inputs and outputs, without regard to further detail.[19]: 87–88 [29]

### Systems far from equilibrium

Living systems are resilient,[24] and are far from equilibrium.[19]: Ch.3 [40] Homeostasis is the analog to equilibrium, for a living system; the concept was described in 1849, and the term was coined in 1926.[41][42]

Resilient systems are self-organizing;[24][d][19]: Ch.3  [43]

The scope of functional controls is hierarchical, in a resilient system.[24][19]: Ch.3

## Frameworks and methodologies

Frameworks and methodologies for systems thinking include:

## Notes

1. ^ A solution to the equations for a dynamical system can be afflicted by instability or oscillation.[15]: 7:33  The Governor: A corrective action against error can solve the dynamical equation by integrating the error.[15]: 29:44 [16]
2. ^ "cybernetics: see system science.";[17]: 135  "system science: —the systematized knowledge of systems"[17]: 583
3. ^ Donella Meadows, Thinking In Systems: A Primer[19][20] Overview, in video clips: Chapter 1[21] Chapter 2, part 1[22] Chapter 2, part 2[23] Chapter 3[24] Chapter 4[25] Chapter 5[26] Chapter 6[27] Chapter 7[28]
4. ^ Abstract: "An inevitable prerequisite for this book, as implied by its title, is a presupposition that systems science is a legitimate field of scientific inquiry. It is self-evident that I, as the author of this book, consider this presupposition valid. Otherwise, clearly, I would not conceive of writing the book in the first place". —George J. Klir, "What Is Systems Science?" from Facets of Systems Science (1991)

## References

1. ^ Anderson, Virginia, & Johnson, Lauren (1997). Systems Thinking Basics: From Concepts to Causal Loops. Waltham, Mass: Pegasus Comm., Inc.
2. ^ Magnus Ramage and Karen Shipp. 2009. Systems Thinkers. Springer.
3. ^ Introduction to Systems thinking. Report of GSE and GORS seminar. Civil Service Live. 3 July 2012. Government Office for Science.
4. ^ Sarah York, Rea Lavi, Yehudit Judy Dori, and MaryKay Orgill Applications of Systems Thinking in STEM Education J. Chem. Educ. 2019, 96, 12, 2742–2751 Publication Date:May 14, 2019 https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00261
5. ^ "School of System Change: Why Systems Change?". School of System Change: Learning to lead change in a complex world. Retrieved 2022-12-06.
6. ^ Systemic Thinking 101 Russell L Ackoff From Mechanistic to Systemic thinking, also awal street journal (2016) Systems Thinking Speech by Dr. Russell Ackoff 1:10:57
7. ^ a b
8. ^ a b Marchal, J. H. (1975). "On the Concept of a System". Philosophy of Science. 42 (4). [Cambridge University Press, The University of Chicago Press, Philosophy of Science Association]: 448–468. ISSN 0031-8248. JSTOR 187223. Retrieved 2024-05-31. as reprinted in Gerald Midgely (ed.) (2002) Systems thinking vol One
9. ^ Jon Voisey Universe Today (14 Oct 2022) Scholarly History of Ptolemy’s Star Catalog Index
10. ^ Jessica Lightfoot Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 57 (2017) 935–9672017 Hipparchus Commentary On Aratus and Eudoxus
11. ^ Newton, Isaac (1687) Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica
12. ^ Sadi Carnot (1824) Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire
13. ^ James Clerk Maxwell (1868) On Governors 12 pages
14. ^ a b c Otto Mayr (1971) Maxwell and the Origins of Cybernetics Isis, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Winter, 1971), pp. 424-444 (21 pages)
15. ^ a b The Royal Society of Edinburgh (2016) Celebrating Maxwell's Genius and Legacy: Prof Rodolphe Sepulchre
16. ^ Karl Johan Åström and Richard M. Murray (2021) Feedback Systems: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers, Second Edition
17. ^ a b c IEEE (1972) Standard Dictionary of Electrical and Electronics Terms
18. ^ Peter Galison (1994) The Ontology of the Enemy: Norbert Wiener and the Cybernetic Vision Critical Inquiry, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 228–266 (39 pages) JSTOR
19. ^ Donella H. Meadows (1977) A Philosophical Look at System Dynamics 53:18
20. ^ Ashley Hodgson Thinking in Systems, Key Ideas (Ch. 1)
21. ^ Ashley Hodgson Thinking in Systems, Ch. 2: Types of System Dynamics 2a
22. ^
23. ^ a b c d
24. ^ Ashley Hodgson Thinking in Systems, Ch. 4: Why Systems Surprise Us 4
25. ^ Ashley Hodgson Thinking in Systems, Ch. 5: System Traps 5
26. ^ Ashley Hodgson Thinking in Systems, Ch. 6: Leverage Points in Systems 6
27. ^ Ashley Hodgson Thinking in Systems, Ch. 7: Living with Systems 7
28. ^ Wiener, Norbert; Cybernetics: Or the Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, MIT Press, 1961, ISBN 0-262-73009-X, page xi
29. ^ Aristotle, Politics
30. ^ JS Maloy (2009) The Aristotelianism of Locke's Politics Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 70, No. 2 (April 2009), pp. 235–257 (23 pages)
31. ^ Aristotle, History of Animals
32. ^ Lennox, James (27 July 2011). "Aristotle's Biology". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 28 November 2014.
33. ^ Adam Smith (1776) The Wealth of Nations Book IV refers to commercial, and mercantile systems, as well as to systems of political enonomy
34. ^
35. ^