Systems practice – unpacking the juggler metaphor | OpenLearn

From the Open University, excerpted from a free course on “Managing Complexity: A Systems Approach”:

Many well-known systems thinkers had particular experiences, which led them to devote their lives to their particular forms of systems practice. So, within Systems thinking and practice, just as in juggling, there are different traditions, which are perpetuated through lineages (see Figure 7).

A model of different influences that have shaped contemporary systems approaches

Figure 7: A model of different influences that have shaped contemporary systems approaches

The OpenLearn course was surfaced on reading “The Role of Systems Thinking in the Practice of Implementing Sustainable Development Goals” | Martin Reynolds, Christine Blackmore, Ray Ison, Rupesh Shah, Elaine Wedlock | 2017 | Handbook of Sustainability Science and Research at http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-63007-6_42 .

Praxis support for implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) based on systems thinking in practice at The Open University.

Praxis support for implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) based on systems thinking in practice at The Open University. Source Reynolds et al. (2017). © 2017 The Open University

A complementary presentation was made by Martin Reynolds at the World Symposium on Sustainability Science and Research, Manchester, UK, April 5-7, 2007.
World Symposium on Sustainability Science and Research

Martin Reynolds is in the Applied Systems Thinking in Practice group in the School of Engineering and Innovation, at The Open University.

There are a variety courses when searching on “Systems Thinking” in OpenLearn.

 

#mooc, #open-university, #systems-thinking

Reflections on the paradigm of Ecological Economics for Environmental Management | Maurício Fuks | 2012

A concise history of ecological economics via Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Kenneth E. Boulding laying down foundations in the systems sciences, and their influence on Herman Daly and Robert Costanza.

Georgescu-Roegen (1971) pointed out that, according to the first law of thermodynamics we can neither create nor destroy matter or energy (Principle of Conservation of Matter and Energy) and consequently asked: What, then, does the economic process do? The answer is: it absorbs, qualitatively transforms low entropy and releases it outside the economic system in the form of high entropy.3 That is, the economic system is a subsystem of the finite global ecosystem, on which it depends to both extract low entropy and, when using it, release it in the form of high entropy (Ayres, Nair, 1984, Constanza et al 1997).

Figure 1 - Matter and energy flows through the economic system

This entropic perspective of the economic process is the opposite of the mechanistic view addopted by standard economic theory. Unlike the Newtonian worldview – in which a system is time reversible, remaining identical -, the second law of entropy indicates an irreversible and unidirectional qualitative change: The amount of bound (or unavailable) energy in a closed system increases continuously. To decrease the entropy of a system, we need to obtain energy from outside the system, which means increasing the global entropic deficit.

Living organisms are no exception to the second law of thermodynamics, since they survive by absorbing low entropy from the environment to offset the increase in entropy to which they are subject. Thus, although living organisms temporarily avoid dissipation, they increase the entropy of the system as a whole, i.e., of the environment in which they exist. In other words, the presence of life speeds up the entropic process (Georgescu-Roegen, 1971, 1993).

[….]

Kenneth Boulding, another thinker of huge influence in Ecological Economics was also adamant about the need for changing the economic behavior of humanity.5

  • Although Georgescu-Roegen and Boulding disagreed about the concept of entropy, the congruence between the works of these two thinkers is evident. The sharpest disagreement lies in that Boulding advocates the possibility of a closed system for matter without its dissipation and powered by solar energy. This difference makes Boulding’s view (potentially) less tragic than Georgescu-Roegen’s (see Cechin & Eli da Veiga, 2010; Cleveland, 1999; and Fuks, 1992, 1994).

“Reflections on the paradigm of Ecological Economics for Environmental Management” | Maurício Fuks | Estudos Avançados | vol.26 no.74 São Paulo 2012 at http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0103-40142012000100008 , CC-BY-NC at http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0103-40142012000100008&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en

 

#ecological-economics, #kenneth-boulding, #nicholas-georgescu-roegen

Open Systems Thinking, Online Discussion, Governance

Should an open (public) online discussion group espousing systems thinking be governed through (i) an open (public) group, or (ii) a private (closed or secret) discussion group?

This is a question being debated on Facebook, about the “The Ecology of Systems Thinking” public group, with the “Systems Thinking Network Leadership Group” (closed group, proposed to becoming open), and the “EcoST Admin ADG” (secret group, which has reset to “closed”, i.e. the members are visible, but the content is not).

On August 30, I was invited into the EcoST Admin ADG, and posted:

I am signing into this group to say that I will not participate in a group that is designated as secret.

Since I have spent 3 full years writing a book called Open Innovation Learning, it would be hypocritical for me to participate in an online community that doesn’t believe in open systems thinking.

Some offline private communications ensued.  On August 31, I responded to on a personal channel:

… if the official position of that Facebook group is that’s going to be “a private working space”, then I won’t participate. However, if I was feeling sufficiently mischievous, I would then create a public link to that group, saying how open systems thinking isn’t being practiced, and ask why.

On a question about online discussion group administrator-moderators “making mistakes”, I wrote:

If we are seriously designing a system that “learns”, errors (a rephrasing of [C…’s] mistakes) are an opportunity for group learning. This is covered in the Map of Ignorance, from the University of Arizona. http://coevolving.com/blogs/index.php/archive/the-meta-design-of-dialogues-as-inquiring-systems/

The behaviour of thanking someone for pointing out an error takes some getting used to. It’s at the foundation of Ontological Design, as encouraged by Fernando Flores. https://www.strategy-business.com/article/09406

<< some messages by others are omitted >>

My understanding is that a lot of people are intimidated by meeting Fernando Flores, because he will take you at your word. I had the fortunate opportunity to schedule an appointment to speak to him directly (in his home!) and I found him rather straightforward.

<< a message by someone is omitted >>

So, to follow though on the Flores thread, communicating via social media (as well a verbally, where he does a large amount of coaching) is a SKILL that individuals should learn and improve upon. That being said, talking into a mirror (i.e. a closed system) will only allow a limited amount of learning.

As those private comments were (with my concurrence) reshared onto the EcoST Admin ADG on August 31.  Responses to the thread led me to write a long response:

On the premise of setting the EcoSt Admin ADG as secret or private Facebook group: What systems school, research of philosophy are you basing this decision? I will argue for open systems thinking (and open systems theory), and can easily draw on whole community of systems luminaries to support my position.

From a systemic perspective, the issue should be discussed as a whole. To fit within the post limits of Facebook, this issue will be broken up into this opening, five points, and a closing.

(1) An open systems approach allows boundary critique, as described by Werner Ulrich at http://wulrich.com/boundary_critique.html .

The quest for systemic thinking cannot alter the fact that all our claims remain ‘partial’ (Ulrich 1983), in the double sense of being selective with respect to relevant facts and norms and of benefiting some parties more than others. This is what boundary critique (Ulrich 1996, 2000, 2017) is all about; it aims at disclosing this inevitable partiality.

Having a Facebook administrators group as a closed system doesn’t “identify the sources of selectivity”; doesn’t “question these boundary judgements with respect to their practical and ethical implications to surface options”; and doesn’t include the ability to “challenge unqualified claims to knowledge or rationality by compelling argumentation”.

(2) An open systems approach embraces dissenting perspectives, as described by Gerald Midgley, “The Sacred and Profane in Critical Systems Thinking” | 1991 | Systems Practice at
https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01060044 , cached at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226199755_The_Sacred_and_Profane_in_Critical_Systems_Thinking

Fuenmayor uses a metaphor of light and dark to describe this process of drawing boundaries. He asks us to remain aware that throwing light upon a system casts its ‘otherness’ into darkness. Through such an awareness we are able to retain the possibility of changing the boundaries of critique. In other words, awareness of ‘otherness’ is an effective remedy for ‘hardening of the boundaries’.

Any electronic forum that is a closed system doesn’t permit throwing light on how the boundaries are set.

(3) An open systems approach embraces fluid management (rather than solid aspects of management), as described by David Hawk | “System Cracks are Where the Light Gets In: Models and Measures of Services in the Benefit of Context” | 2001 | Proceedings of the 45th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the System Sciences, cached at http://systemicbusiness.org/pubs/2001_ISSS_45th_068_Hawk_Parhankangas_System_Cracks_Light.html

Cracks point a systems forces that were not being reconciled within the limits of the system. “Crackage” may also be a sign of systems reaching their limits. […] Such cracks can be seen as early indicators of larger problems looming for organizations.

A closed system doesn’t respond to environment, and thus doesn’t see signals of the system reaching its limits.

(4) An open systems approach embraces “unbounded systems thinking” as “the fifth way of knowing”, as described by Ian Mitroff | The Unbounded Mind | 1995 (scholarly excerpt at http://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195102888.003.0006 . This was originally described as a Singerian inquiring system by C. West Churchman. Here’s a quick summary by James F. Courtney, David T. Croasdell and David B. Paradice | “Inquiring Organizations” | 1998 at https://www.bauer.uh.edu/parks/fis/inqorg.htm#s2

The Singerian Inquirer
> Two basic premises guide Singerian inquiry (Churchman, 1971, pp. 189-191). The first premise establishes a system of measures that specify steps to be followed in resolving disagreements among members of a community. Measures can be transformed and compared where appropriate. The measure of performance is the degree to which differences among group member’s opinions can be resolved by the measuring system. A key feature of the measuring system is its ability to replicate its results to ensure consistency.
> The second principle guiding Singerian inquiry is the strategy of agreement (p. 199). Disagreement may occur for various reasons, including the different training and background of observers and inadequate explanatory models. When models fail to explain a phenomenon, new variables and laws are “swept in” to provide guidance and overcome inconsistencies. Yet, disagreement is encouraged in Singerian inquiry. It is through disagreement that world views come to be improved. Complacency is avoided by continuously challenging system knowledge.
> Singerian inquiry provides the capability to choose among a system of measures to create insight and build knowledge. A simplistic optimism drives the community toward continuous improvement of measures. However, the generation of knowledge can move the community away from reality and towards its own form of illusion if not carefully monitored.

An open systems approach with the fifth way of knowing allows new knowledge to be swept into the dialogue. Taking a poll is based on the second way of knowing, an analytic-deductive inquiring system.

(5) An open systems approach is a premise for Open Innovation Learning, where open sourcing WHILE private sourcing is recognized. The open access book at http://openinnovationlearning.com/online/ is based on 7 case studies of IBM between 2001-2011.

The label of open sourcing frames ongoing ways that organizations and individuals conduct themselves with others through continually sharing artifacts and practices of mutual benefit. The label of private sourcing frames the contrasting and more traditional ways that business organizations and allied partners develop and keep artifacts and practices to themselves. Many customers external to a private sourcing organization are uninterested in internal details about the whys and wherefores about how an offering comes about. Some constituents external to an organization prefer the transparency in open sourcing, both in self interests and mutual interests. [p. 5]

Those interested in an example a concrete struggle to maintain the spirit of open sourcing can refer to Appendix A.7.4 (c) “Open sourcing: Office Open XML approved as ECMA-376 on Dec. 7 2006” telling the story about Microsoft influencing industry standards organizations to endorse OOXML, and IBM threatening to exit those organizations as a result.

In this sense, I may be labelled a heretic. David Hawk writes “a heretic was one who raises questions about an entity’s most closely held beliefs. A heretic initiates institutional renewal by firming up its strengths while destabilizing its dogmas. In this way a heretic strengthens an entity”. See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326399730_CHANGE_FROM_WITHIN_GUNNAR_AS_THE_LOYAL_HERETIC

I explicitly license the whole of these comments (i.e. the opening, 5 points and close) as Creative Commons CC-BY-ND David Ing 2018, which allows them to be reposted in whole by anyone, anywhere, as long as they are attributed to me. If you want to respond, your copyright will be preserved, but you might want to refer to “Do I Own My Photos and Posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?” | Mihir Patkar | October 2017 at https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/own-photos-facebook-twitter/

The original formation of the Systems Thinking Network Leadership group on Facebook was based on the reformation of Systems Thinking World on LinkedIn, in October-November 2015.  The ideal (but technologically immature) direction would have been to move towards a federated social web.  Benjamin Taylor had moved to the model.report platform (based on lobste.rs, now archived at https://syscoi.com/model.report/model.report/recent.html ) before moving to stream.syscoi.com in January 2018.

On September 1, Benjamin Taylor wrote on the EcoST Admin ADG:

I have a preference for what i believe David is advocating – everything should be *accessible* unless it really needs to be private. And we should keep the private to a minimum.

The purpose of this apart from the open systems principles is to allow genuine accountability – i.e. at a practical minimum, the different perspectives and arguments behind moderation decisions should be made visible.

IIRC, at the time a small group of people saved the LinkedIn group (which I had a part ownership of) and the Facebook group from [G…’s] destruction (plus the @systemsthinking twitter, which [P…] still has custody of, given we were never able to resolve what to do with it), I proposed (or supported) very open moderation, which is why I added many admin-types to the LI group, and created (or supported) the systems thinking network leadership group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1698754760335916/ as an open forum for whoever was interested to weigh in and help make decisions on any governance or emergent issues from *both* the LI and the facebook group. I stand by that decision, and would suggest that we rename that as the more humble ‘moderation’ group, agree some decision rules, and try to work there.

This led Benjamin to a Facebook poll in the EcoST Admin ADG with a description:

I’m proposing:
1- close down this group and reconvene in the STN moderation group
2- I will make clear to everyone there the intention for it to be a platform for moderators to hold governance discussions and allow 72 hours for responses or complaints (to be debated there), then:
3- I will change the group status to open
4- I will delete every non-governance-related post currently in that group
and then:
5-any mega-decisions for either group be by vote of all members in the relevant groups (STN moderation a platform for open discussions only)
6-all moderation decisions discussed in STN moderation open group, then finalised by small group of moderators using the rules we are currently agreeing in the google doc)
7-delegate authority to all moderators to do a bunch of day-to-day stuff (as being agreed in the google doc)
8-escalation route from individual moderator – STN moderation discussion and moderator decision – all member vote if needed (to be agree in the google doc)
The results of this vote not to be binding on what we agree in the google doc – items 6-8 as they relate to the google doc be advisory in that context.

I support this position, and would be active in reforming the Systems Thinking Network Leadership (closed) group on Facebook into the Systems Thinking Network Moderation (public) group.

This is not the end of the story.  It’s a partial report of activities in an online community.

The Ecology of Systems Thinking group on Facebook

#facebook, #governance, #online-communities, #open-systems-thinking, #systems-thinking

The Power of Profit in Ecology | Timothy F.H. Allen | 2017 | TEDxMadison

Ecologists can learn from economists, says Timothy F.H. Allen, paying attention to return on effort.  This video is a refined presentation of ideas based in hierarchy theory and the collapse of complex societies, jointly researched with Joseph Tainter and published in Supply-Side Sustainability.

High Gain, Timothy F.H. Allen

[3:40] This is a resource that gives you a lot of gain for minimal effort. We call them high gain. High gain systems are wasteful. They’re local because they sit on the hot spot of the resource. They’re ephemeral because the hot spot doesn’t last very long. And they’re dynamical. You can describe them in terms of the dynamics of the situation. [….]

[04:18] … whereas tomatoes are all tomatoes all the way, basil consists of leaves — which you want — and these stalks and stems and flowers and things that you don’t. So we have to approach basil quite differently. We have to treat it as a low quality resource.

Low Gain, Timothy F.H. Allen

[04:40] It’s low gain. That is to say, you put in a lot of effort. You tend to be prudent. The resource is consumed in a dispersed way. The resource tends to be long lasting and structural.

[04:57] And so that in this way, basil is reduced down, processed, increased in quality, until we just have
the leaves. [….]

[05:30] I have a good colleague, Joe Tainter. He’s written a wonderful book in 1988 called The Collapse of Complex Societies. And his basic premise is that societies are problem-solving units, and they solve problems by complexifying. In the beginning you don’t get a lot of benefit for complexification. Then you get a lot. But in the end, there’s a diminishing return on effort. So over time, we consume a resource. It collapses. It becomes too expensive. We then indulge in some sort of a substitution.

Complexity, complicatedness: Timothy F.H. Allen

[06:07] Notice though that the cost over time keeps on going up. Relative complicatedness is a different manner. Notice the way that we get more and more complicated and difficult to deal with, but but then all of a sudden, you change your strategy.

[11:30] Remarkably enough, hardly any systems go prudent [in their consumption]. […] As long as there is a high gain resource in the vicinity, they will use it. All systems do that. All systems are wasteful. [….]

[12:15] We never look after our resources. Once you’ve gotten to this prudent use, then, all of a sudden, instead of living in your food, you move out to get the food and bring it back again.

Here’s an abstract from a similar talk from Allen, on “Introducing the Concept of Profit Across Ecology“, given in 2016 at the U. of Georgia.

Ecologists often speak of resource use, but not of profit. Return on effort is neglected. Ecologists are so doom and gloom because their systems are seen as going round a cycle from establishment to demise as resources run out. Sometimes they lead to death and extinction, but economists know better that resources do not run out; usually they just get more expensive in the next pass around the cycle. There are successive cycles of increasing efficiency. Some cycles are predictable from rate-dependent energy gradients (high gain), and whole other systems are predicted from rate-independent constraints on those flows (low gain). We have examples from ants, termites, birds, the Roman Empire and prevailing global ecology.

References

The Power of Profit in Ecology | Timothy F.H. Allen | 2017 | TEDxMadison at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhVlJDH3pTE

“Confronting economic profit with hierarchy theory: The concept of gain in ecology” | Timothy F. H. Allen, Peter C. Allen, Amy Malek, John Flynn, Michael Flynn | 2009 | Systems Research and Behavioral Science at https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.998

“Insights into Service Coming from Biology” | Timothy F. H. Allen | ISSS 2012 San Jose at http://isss.org/world/sanjose-2012-retrospective#plenary-allen

“Insights into the Relationship Between Products and Services Coming from Biology” | Timothy F. Allen,  Duncan Shaw,  Peter C. Allen, James Spohrer | 2013 | Systems Research and Behavioral Science at https://doi.org/10.1002/sres.2216

#ecology, #economics

C. West Churchman with Kristo Ivanov | 1987 | archive.org

Video is viewable through an online viewer, and downloadable in multiple formats (h264 MP4, MPEG2 VOB, OGG Video) on the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/Index_20180206_1053 .  This recording was producted by the department of Informatics of Umeå University in the spring of year 1987, with C. West Churchman interviewed by Kristo Ivanov.

Kristo Ivanov, in interview with C. West Churchman (1987)

The opening title reads:

Professor C. WEST CHURCHMAN

Universicy [sic] of California, Berkeley

Interviewed by professor
Kristo Ivanov
on April 30, 1987,
at the University of Umeå ,
Sweden – department of
Administrative Data processing.

The second and third slide read …

This interview was made during a visit of professor Churchman as guest lecturer at the University of Umeå , following his being rewarded a honorary doctor’s degree in economic science in the autumn 1985.

A summary of professor Churchman’s life and work is given at the end of the recording.

The background song “Der Lindenbaum” – music by Franz Schubert and text by Wilhelm Müller – is sung by professor Churchman himself!

Via:

#systems-approach, #systems-thinking, #west-churchman

Living Systems | James Grier Miller | 1978

The 1100+ page Living Systems book published in 1978 by the founder of Behavioral Science in 1956, James Grier Miller, became available as a softcopy on the Internet Archive in May 2017.

What is a living system and what does it do? Many scientists coming from diverse scientific backgrounds, when engaged in the search for general principles to integrate our understanding of the phenomena of life, have placed major emphasis on the notion of living systems composed of interrelated units. The various “systems theories” differ greatly in their concepts and definitions of basic terms. Their common goal is to organize the findings in some or all of the sciences of life and behavior into a single conceptual structure.

1. One general theory of living systems

The general living systems theory which this book presents is a conceptual system concerned primarily with concrete systems (see page 17) which exist in space-time. Complex structures which carry out living processes I believe can be identified at seven hierarchical levels (see page 25) — cell, organ, organism, group, organization, society, and supranational system. My central thesis is that systems at all these levels are open systems composed of subsystems which process inputs, throughputs, and outputs of various forms of matter, energy, and information. I identify 19 critical subsystems (see page 32 and Table 1-1) whose processes are essential for life, some of which process matter or energy, some of which process information, and some of which process all three. Together they make up a living system, as shown in Fig. 1-1. In this table the line under the word “Reproducer” separates this subsystem from the others because that subsys- tem differs from all the others by being critical to the species or type of system even though it is not essen- tial to the individual. Living systems often continue to exist even though they are not able to reproduce. Subsystems in different columns which appear oppo- site each other have processes with important similar- ities — for instance, the processes carried out by the ingestor for matter and energy are comparable to those carried out by the input transducer for information. In general the sequence of transmissions in living systems is from inputs at the top of Table 1-1 to outputs at the bottom, but there are exceptions. [p. 1]

A generalized living system interacting and intercommunicating with two others in its environment

Fig. 1-1 A generalized living system interacting and intercommunicating with two others in its environment.

Subsystems which process both matter-energy and information: Reproducer (Re); Boundary (Bo).

Subsystems which process matter-energy: Ingestor (IN); Distributor (DI); Converter (CO); Producer (PR); Matter-energy storage (MS); Extruder (EX); Motor (MO); Supporter (SU).

Subsystems which process information: Input transducer (IT); Internal transducer (IN); Channel and net (CN); Decoder (DC); Associator (AS); Memory (ME); Decider (DE); Encoder (EN); Output transducer (OT).  [p. 2]

Systems at each of the seven levels, I maintain, have the same 19 critical subsystems. The structure and processes of a given subsystem are more complex at a more advanced level than at the less advanced ones. This is explained by what I call the evolutionary principle of “shred-out,” a sort of division of labor (see Fig. 1-2). Cells have the 19 critical subsystems. When mutations occurred in the original cells, the mutant could continue to exist only if it could carry out all the essential processes of life of the 19 subsystems; otherwise it would be eliminated by natural selection. The general direction of evolution is toward greater complexity. As more complex cells evolved, they had more complex subsystems, but still the same 19 basic pro- cesses. Similarly as cells evolved into more complex systems at advanced levels — organs, organisms, and so on — their subsystems shredded out into increasingly complicated units carrying out more complicated and often more effective processes. If at any single point in the entire evolutionary sequence any one of the 19 subsystem processes had ceased, the system would not have endured. That explains why the same 19 subsystems are found at each level from cell to supra- system. And it explains why it is possible to discover, observe, and measure cross-level formal identities (see page 17). [pp. 1,4]

Shred out
Fig. 1-2 Shred-out. The generalized living system (see Fig. 1-1) is here shown at each level. The diagram indicates that the 19 subsystems at the level of the cell shred out to form the next more advanced level of system, the organ. This still has the same 19 subsystems, each being more complex. A similar shredding-out occurs to form each of the five more advanced levels — organism, group, organization, society, and supranational system.  [p. 4]

For each subsystem I identify about a dozen variables representing different aspects of its processes. It would be easy to identify more if one wanted an exhaustive list. Each of these variables can be measured at each of the levels, and the sorts of variation discovered can be compared across the levels. The interactions between two or more variables in a single subsystem or in multiple ones can also be observed, measured, and compared across the levels. This is how cross-level formal identities, basic to a general theory of living systems, can be examined (see page 27).

This book is an effort to integrate all the social, biological, and physical sciences that apply to structure or process at any of the seven levels. Physiology, biochemistry, genetics, pharmacology, medicine, economics, political science, anthropology, sociology, and psychology are all almost entirely relevant. Physical science and engineering also contribute. Logic, mathematics, and statistics yield methods, models, and simulations, including some involving the relatively new approaches of cybernetics and information theory. [p. 4]

References

Miller, James Grier. 1978. Living Systems. McGraw-Hill. https://archive.org/details/LivingSystems.

#james-grier-miller, #living-systems

Behavioral Science, A New Journal | 1956 | James Grier Miller

The founding of Behavioral Science in 1956, with James Grier MIller as the founding editor, was sponsored through research into mental health.  This interdisciplinary approach was a precursor to the organization now labelled as the International Society for the Systems Sciences.

The remarkable growth of interdisciplinary interest in behavioral science duirng the last decade is the fundamental justification for this new periodical. [….]

Man’s most baffling enigma remains, as it has always been, himself. He has been unable to fathom with any precision those laws of human nature which can produce social inequality, industrial strife, marital disharmony, juvenile delinquency, mental illness, war, and other widespread miseries. [p. 1]

Many different approaches have been used in the study of behavior — mathematical biology, biochemistry, physiology, genetics, medicine, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, economics, politics, anthropology, history philosophy, and others. Though the term “interdisciplinary” is widely current, and for a long time efforts a t collaboration have been made, true unification of these fields still remains an unattained goal. And within each are various schools. Their approaches and skills are specific, but the problems are general. Can the scientific method solve the larger, more pervasive questions about man as well as the smaller, more particular ones? Is the tool with which man has won his victories over the physical world applicable to uncovering the laws which govern man’s conduct, the deepest causes of our strife and our harmony? If the fragments of multiple sciences were brought together in a unitary behavioral science and all the separate skills focused on the study of human behavior, perhaps the time required to find answers to these questions could be reduced. It is possible that inadequacies in the present studies of man could thus be avoided. The uniformities among disciplines could be recognized; better communication among them established ; generality of findings magnified; additional benefits derived from comparing theories in diverse fields, explaining both similarities and differences; and the validity and applicability of empirical work increased by planning individual studies as components of an explicit mosaic of research strategy. [pp. 1-2]

About 1949 a group of faculty members at the University of Chicago, some of whom have now moved to the University of Michigan, began to consider whether a sufficient body of facts exists to justify developing empirically testable general theories of behavior. This group used the term “behavioral science” to cover the diverse areas of their interests, primarily because its neutral character made it acceptable to both social and biological scientists.

Most of the participants were at first skeptical that our comprehension of these different areas had advanced sufficiently to justify such activity. The first meetings engendered a general hopelessness as the diversity of languages and the multitude of approaches to the study of man became increasingly apparent. But then we began to see among us certain commonalties of thinking, despite their many linguistic disguises, and this agree- ment gave us hope that our efforts were not unrealistic.

Members of this group have met intensively for several years as the Committee on Behavioral Science at the Universit,y of Chicago. Some are continuing this activity at Chicago; others went to staff the new Mental Health Research Institute, established in August, 1955, at the University of Michigan; and there they were joined by still others. The Regents of the University and the Legislature of the State of Michigan established this Institute on a permanent basis. [p. 2]

The aim is to conduct basic research; the expectation, that from such research will flow contributions, particularly in the field of mental health and disease, that will help to solve the many problems of human relations. Our understanding of mental illness is primitive compared with our knowledge of other forms of disease, partly because of the complexity of the problems and partly because research efforts have not been commensurate with their magnitude. Public interest in these issues is growing rapidly, as evidenced by the new or greatly increased appropriations for investigation by state legislatures and the Congress, and by additional support from foundations. [pp. 2-3]

In this area of behavioral science there are numerous schools with conflicting beliefs. No one as yet has seen how the insights of psychodynamics, the projective techniques of psychology, the facts of neuropathology, the discoveries of endocrinology, biochernistry, and neurophysiology , and the concepts of social science can be merged into a single framework for explaining the biological and psychiatric and social phenomena of mental illness. There is need now for renewed and exhaustive examination of these separate matters, and for creative attempts to integrate them, to test them empirically, and to apply them.

Such studies should be carried out at various levels. Our present thinking-which may alter with time-is that a general theory will deal with structural and behavioral properties of systems. The diversity of systems is great. The molecule, the cell, the organ, the individual, the group, the society are all examples of systems. Besides differing in the level of organization, systems differ in many other crucial respects. They may he living, nonliving, or mixed; material or conceptual; and so forth.

The strategy of the Michigan Institute’s work will emphasize identification of general principles, which extend across various levels of systems. We shall attempt to clarify and make precise both the general principles and the particular differences; and to test — in laboratories and in clinics, by group studies and by social surveys, with whatever methods prove appropriate — the validity and usefulness of such analysis. Research techniques will probably be derived from several areas, including the physiological, psychological, economic, political, social and cultural.

Although the Institute expects to pay particular attention to the similarities and dissimilarities among different behaving systems, this is only one of many legitimate approaches to behavior theory. Behavioral Science, as a journal with wider scope than any single Institute, will welcome articles which are constructively critical of this orientation or which advance other alternative strategies, as well as articles which present relevant empirical studies. [p. 3]

This is the official publication of the Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan. As such it wil contain edited records of roundtable discussions on theory and reports of other activities involving the Institute. It is hoped that Ann Arbor can in the summer offer its facilities as a meeting center for scientists, many from other institutions, who are concerned with behavior theory or mental health or with related experimental and clinical work. Reports of such conferences and workshops will also be included in this journal. [pp. 3-4]

Other centers are carrying out closely related work. The Committee on Behavioral Science at Chicago, for example, maintains its original interests, and other universities are supporting or planning comparable programs. A particularly significant focus of activity is the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences established by the Ford Foundation and located at Stanford, California. This journal will welcome contributions from scholars a t these centers or elsewhere. It should serve as one channel of communication for members of the ever-increasing group engaged in advancing the sciences of man.

We are aware of no present journal with a primary policy of making its pages available to representatives of any field-the humanities, the social sciences, the biological and medical sciences, and the physical sciences — to discuss theory concerning behavior, and empirical studies clearly oriented to such theory. It has been rare for physicists, psychiatrists, political scientists, and historians to publish in, or even read, the same journal. We shall strive to achieve this end.

[….]

Franz Alexander
Alex Bavelas
David Easton
Ralph W. Gerard
Clyde Kluckhohn
Donald G. Marquis
Jacob Marschak
Anatol Rapoport
Ralph W. Tyler
Raymond W. Waggoner

Some this history is more fully explicated in the 2010 book The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory, by Debora Hammond.

References

Alexander, Franz, Alex Bavelas, Ralph W. Gerard, Donald G. Marquis, Jacob Marschak, James G. Miller, Anatol Rapoport, Ralph W. Tyler, and Raymond Waggoner. 1956. “Editorial: Behavioral Science, A New Journal.” Behavioral Science 1 (1): 1–5. https://doi.org/10.1002/bs.3830010102.

Hammond, Debora. 2003. The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory. University Press of Colorado. http://books.google.com/books?id=skSMuZycpTwC , or at a library near you.

Behavioral Science, A New Journal

 

 

 

#behavioral-science, #james-grier-miller