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Definition:

Systems theory is thinking about things as systems, and finding common characteristics of these systems.

What is a system? It is a collection of things that share a development in common. 

One is example of a system is our planet Earth. It consists of a great number of sub-systems, such as land, water, air, plants, animals, etc.

A systems approach is a drive towards unity of knowledge and hence represents a modern sequel to dialectics.

Mindwalk
An excellent video introduction to "systems theory" is a clip from movie "Mind walk", 1990 (
full movie "Mindwalk", watch from 1 hour 21 min. to 1 hour 26 min.)


Authors in systems theory:

  1. Saint-Simon (1760-1825)
  2. G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831)
  3. V.I. Lenin, (1870-1924)
  4. Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928)
  5. Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972)
  6. William Ross Ashby (1903 - 1972)
  7. Alexander Fetisov (1913-1991)
  8. Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003)
  9. Anthony Stafford Beer   (1926–2002)


Development of systems theory:

1) Saint-Simon, after the French revolution, proposes the idea of a unity of sciences.

2) G.W.F. Hegel, early in XIX century, develops the idea of dialectics, establishing the idea of development in general.

3) A revolutionary and philosopher Alexander Bogdanov publishes "Tectology" in 1920's. "Tect" means construction. This is a book stating that there are general principles of construction, or organization, in whatever field.

4) In parallel with Bogdanov works another Russian scientist, Bekhterev. He proposes 23 universal laws that he believes are present in all reality, such as the law of action and an equal and opposite reaction. These are restatement laws of classical physics, only generalized to include all phenomena.  

5) Austrian-American Ludwing von Bertalanffy proposes "General Systems Theory", after WWII. Its central idea is isomorphism of scientific laws in whatever field, or system. Systems approach is made necessary by increasing complexity of problems.

6) 1954 Ludwig von BertalanffyAnatol RapoportRalph W. GerardKenneth Boulding establish Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory, in 1956 renamed to Society for General Systems Research

7) William Ross Ashby develops the concept of self-organization and the law of required variety.

8) In 1960's a Soviet administrator critical of the Soviet regime, Alexander Fetisov, develops a systems approach, based on his experience of managing a fleet. 

9) 1971-1973 - Cybersyn, a rudimentary internet and cybernetic system for democratic economic planning is developed in Chile under Allende government by Anthony Stafford Beer.

10) Ilya Prigogine works on self-organization of matter, from a physical point of view, for which he obtains a Nobel Prize in 1977

11) Immanuel Wallerstein develops "world systems theory "

12) 1970-1980s Second-order cybernetics is developed by Heinz von FoersterGregory BatesonHumberto Maturana and others

13) 1980's development of Chaos theory

14) 1988: International Society for the Systems Sciences

15) 1990's: Complex adaptive systems (CAS), John H. HollandMurray Gell-MannW. Brian Arthur

Problems in systems  theory:

What is a "system"?

Links to systems theory:

1) Systems thinking network

Related concepts:

1) synergy

2) cybernetics

Other languages:

Теория систем

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