by Gyorgy Kampis and Vilmos Csanyi
L Eotvos University, Evolutionary Systems Group
Department of Behaviour Genetics
Mailing Address H-1027 Budapest
3 Zasz K u 6, HUNGARY
Abstract: The authors claim that present-day systems science is designed to enable us to understand and manipulate created systems. They believe that a rethinking and a radical revision of some of the basic issues of methodology will be necessary if we are going to be able to deal with the complexity of both natural and human creating processes. These, they feel, cannot be approached by the methods currently being employed.
Systems science constitutes the only attempt to study things independently of their material embodiments, Therefore, one might think that it provides an encompassing view of the world in the most general sense. We believe, however, that at the present time this is far from being the case. As we will try to show In this article, it will be necessary to devise new methodologies if we are ever to attain such a perspective.
What is a system? A truly meaningful definition would be hard to find. Most works in systems science assume that a system is a description of some elements and some of the interactions or relations that hold between those elements. We can, however, turn the issue around by saying that a system description reports about some definite relations among the given elements found in a real system.
Now, our question is: where do we find real systems for which this holds true? To the naked eye everything appears to be in a condition of endless change. Objects interpenetrate each other by highly intricate interactions of all conceivable kinds. Nothing is sure or definite, and nothing is left unchanged; all boundaries become blurred. What seems to be a dominant law may later appear, on a larger scale of events, to be an incidental constellation. Mechanical, biological, societal or even cosmic systems do not differ in this respect: their components are born and decay, the systems are reassembled or taken over, their parts become mouldy and rusty or burn
up or are eaten by others, or they simply run out of energy. How is this related to the nice order of the system descriptions where the interactions politey follow simple and regular patterns and the elements are free of such embarrassing properties? Where do we find the real systems from which these descriptions can be extracted?
The standard answer to these questions is that the above notion of system is merely a consequence of the fact that we are limited in our abilities and thus cannot turn our attention to everything at the same time: the notion therefore expresses only some of the projections of real systems; others are excluded. The prevailing view also says that we can bring all the neglected facets into our models by simply changing our horizon. That is, nothing of interest will be lost; what was left out in one abstraction will reappear in another.
Current systems science is restricted to created systems
In our opinion, this is simply wrong. Over the years, we have developed the view, that the natural systems we presently describe as systems were created either by us, or by some other natural agent – the point is, that they are results of acts of creation. Our present thesis is twofold: first we maintain, that present-day science, and therefore systems science as well, is based on man-made systems; and second, that systems create one another in much the way as we create them – and creation is an activity which has never yet been included in any description; it is eliminated from systems by the current definition of them.
The history of science may be interpreted as the history of the study of man-made systems. Perhaps science can be thought of as beginning with primitive man who made tools and other systems and observed the regularities of events evoked by his actions. Greek and Egyptian science developed geometry, arithmetic and logic in order to solve the tasks that arose with the design and use of technical systems. The rise of modern science began with the idea of the experiment. An experiment is based on some manipulation of nature, on the arrangement of things into a certain order, and on the observation of those few things which are left uncontrolled. Important challenges were also posed by problems of mechanics and engineering. A machine is, for instance, an arrangement of external conditions which harnesses the natural processes that take place inside of the construction; the boundary conditions give direction to the processes and force them into well-chosen channels.
In the history of science, we find only real systems which were built, or created (in the material sense) by humans. What is said about the rest of the world is based entirely on knowledge gained about these systems. The tools developed during the creation of SYSTEMS have proven to be very powerful outside of their original domains, but they do have strong limitations.
A created system is always invariantly fixed, since it is the result of- some formative interactions, and it contains exactly as much information as was put into it when it was constructed. It should now be obvious that most of the things that are interesting happen outside these systems, during the acts of creation.
Natural systems were usually conceived of in analogy to man-made systems. This is why they were approached by mechanistic means. Today many people see that something is missing in them; the mechanistic view is insufficient for their design. But it has not yet been recognized, that natural systems can be the results of similar, creative acts exerted by natural instead of human forces; this realization enables us to comprehend, why success heretofore has only been possible in those cases involving studies of the results of natural creation, as opposed to studies of the processes of creation.
What is creation? When creating a system, the creator forms or modifies the components and the constituing relations in a domain; or, at least, it freezes out most of the interactions and cancels most of the changes, leaving only a very few. These are the ones we utilize in the case of -the man-made systems, the ones we are able to study with current methods. But this stage has to be transcended.
The need is perhaps most pressing in biology. In our terms, the evolution of life is a creation per se, and the living condition itself is based on a perpetual self-creation and reproduction of organisms. Not only here, however, but also in particle physics, in cosmology, in the theory of chemical reactions, in the theories of society and culture, in cognitive science and elsewhere we maintain that we are encountering creating rather than created systems.
The inevitable simplifications we use and the nature of our Interactions with natural objects delimit our knowledge. To get information is to interact. Created systems are simple In the sense that their interactions are channelled so that only a few can be selected. The interactions by which we can get information about objects, either natural or artifical, are, therefore, also simple, because the only possibility we have is to use man-made created systems as measuring devices or, alternatively, to “peep into” the interactions already manifested by the naturally created systems.
Dealing with creating systems
In any case, if every interaction is a window on the objects, then most of these windows are always closed for us; the mutual interactions of the objects can be orders of magnitude more complex than our interactions with them. For instance, if we have n elements, n2 pairwise intractions can take place among them – and possibly all of them will turn out to be different. The number of molecular compounds that could have been relevant in biological evolution is well in the order of 10×10000 and more. Due to the finiteness of the world, these cannot even be realized simultaneously: therefore it is impossible to study all of them. Still, some of their interactions have been realized in the course of history, and the information one gets through these windows has thereby been released.
Due to this “combinatoric explosion” of the number of possible complex interactions, and because of the inevitable limits of the complexity of our operations, which are based on already-created systems, we are always in a time lag. To stay with our metaphore: we could, in principle, open any window but we do not know in advance which to open, and we cannot open them all at the same time. But natural objects do manifest the information they contain in their interactions. And most of these object-object interactions, once realized, can alter the relations that hold true in a system, and drive them into new channels (which cannot be determined in advance). This is creation; and this is how natural systems create each other.
Thus, we have realized that the real complexity of matter, manifested in the creation processes of natural systems, cannot be adequately reflected in the descriptions of created systems, which are characterized by their simplicity. Accordingly, numerous old issues of methodology should be reconsidered.
Descriptions based on patterns of genesis and decay
We propose a new approach. It is our opinion that the ideas of analysis and dynamic prediction, both of which require complete information about the object, have to be abandoned. Consequently, descriptions of creating processes should not be based on models like equations of motion that give a complete account of instantaneous interactions. Instead, such descriptions have to be based on temporally extended patterns of genesis and decay that contain accumulated historical information. A concrete conceptual system which one of the authors has developed in order express and manifest these thoughts was based on biology but considerably more general in its scope (1,2,3). The starting point was that in biology everything is subordinated to evolution, and evolution is a game for survival. One of the fundamental concepts of the system is, therefore, that of function, defined as the trait of components which serves to influence the chance for the genesis and for the persistence of other components.
The theory based on this conceptual system provides a hypothesis as to how functional networks behave in various domains and how they form organizations. It also articulates general invariances (or “laws”) of the developmental patterns of such systems.
Apart from this concrete system, fundamentals of alternate systems approaches were studied. Some new concepts of model building were proposed (4,5) which enable the identification of creating systems and the description of their processes in terms of non-fixed formal systems. A key concept of this development is that of the information set, a tool by which it is possible to constructively control the amount of information encoded in the models. It leads to a new approach to systems which reveals the different complexity of creating and created systems. This circular chain of thought is part of a more rigorous development which will be reported in (6), where the limits of traditional systems approaches are described more technically and the relevance of a particular system, based on its functions, its information content, and its increase of complexity, is established and demonstrated.
We envision a new universe of models that is based on functional information rather than state description, on organization (that is, on the network of functional connections) instead of dynamics, and on objects that are meaningful only relative to the organizations they constitute. By adopting this universe one inevitably loses the simple transparency of current system descriptions; in exchange, we may hope to gain some knowledge about the nature of truly dynamic, that is, creating processes, which are important but heretofore neglected phenomena of Nature.
1. V. Csanyi: General Theory of Evolution, Publ. House of the Hung. Acad. Sci., Budapest 1981.
2. V. Csanyi: General Theory of Evolution, General Systems 26, 1982, pp. 73-92
3. V. Csanyi: Evolution of Life, Mind and Culture: A General Theory, Duke Univ. Press, Durham, 1988 (in print).
4. G. Kampis: On the Modelling Relation, Systems Research 5, 1988, 131 -1 44.
5. G. Kampis: Two Approaches for Defining ‘Systems’, Int. J. General Systems, 1988, in press.
6. G. Kampis: Self-Modifiying Systems: A New Framework for Dynamics, Information, and Complexity, Pergamon, Oxford, to be published 1989.