Teleonics: A process based systems approach

IFSR Newsletter 1994 Vol. 13 no. 3 (34-35) December
Prof. G G Jaros
Biomedical Engineering
University ol Cape Town,
7925 OBSERVATORY, South Africa
T el: +27 21 -404-6 1 1 6, fax : 3291, e-mail :
Teleonics is a systems approach through which an observer can obtain a better understanding of the functioning of living systems. It focuses primarily on the processes that characterize living systems, rather than on the levels and subsystems of which they consist. The units of function in teleonics are the teleons, or goal-directed process units, which stretch over several levels and incorporate numerous living and non-living subsystems. Teleonics has been applied to the study of complex systems in the diverse fields of education, societal governance, business organization, technology assessment, psychology, health care and music theory.
The nature of teleons
Teleons are concerned with the processing ol matter, energy and information which are inseparably bound together. In living systems, such processes are generally executed for a certain purpose or with a certain aim in mind. This means that processes on all levels of the living hierarchy have a teleos, which in Greek means purpose, aim, goal or end. The nature of the teleos will be different on the various levels of the hierarchy. Any analysis of teleons should start with the identification of the teleos. For example teleons exist in the human and animal body for the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cells. In a
society, there will be teleons for agricultural and industrial production and distribution of products as well as for the production and distribution of knowledge. Once the teleos has been identified it is obvious that if it is to be reached persistently, the teleon must have some internal regulation or governance. The evaluation of governance is an important aspect of teleonics. Governance rests on the application of feedback and feedforward processes, which ensure that the teleos is reached. Feedback can be negative (morphostatic) or positive (morphogenetic). Each of these has a role to play. In teleons where the teleos is concerned with maintenance of the system the feedback is generally morphostatic. On the other hand, if the teleos is concerned with growth and development, the appropriate form of feedback is a morphogenetic one.
Types and grouping of teleons
Teleons connect the various levels of the nested hierarchy of living processes. Starting from any of the levels, it is obvious that there will be two kinds of teleons. The ones which connect an upper (outer) level to a lower (inner level are called endoteleons. The teleons which are directed at the higher (outer) levels are called exoteleons. At each level bundles of both kinds of teleons combine to form doublets. Examples of doublets are the cells, individuals, families, organizations, communities and societies. Alhough we tend to think of these entities as concrete systems, they are indeed simply points in the hierarchy where the processes come into close association with each other. The concrete nature of these entities is considered lo be the result of the process interaction and not, as is generally assumed, the other way around. Cells, humans and organizations are the result of their processes and not vice versa. This differentiates teleonics from the normal systems theories. In the latter one would define the system by drawing a boundary and identifying the subsystems and evaluating the interactions between them. In teleonics one defines the processes and searches for the subsystems which contribute to them. Boundaries play a lesser role, all process boundaries are extremely permeable.
Teleons usually reach over many levels of the living hierarchy, creating many concrete systems or doublets. Therefore the entire universe looks like a huge living network in which the teleons are the strings and the doublets are the knots. We have referred to this network as the Biomatrix. It is very difficult to study such a complicated network as a whole. We have suggested that if any point in the Biomatrix is studied at least three levels of the hierarchy are taken into consideration. This is obvious, as the two kinds of teleons at any level in fact connect that level to the upper and lower levels.
Uncertainty, stress, disease and creativity in the Biomatrix
Living systems exhibit uncertainty. Although teleons are designed to reach a teleos, they do not always succeed. To study uncertainty in teleons, we introduced the concept of telentropy. Telentropy exists in all teleons. There is no living activity of which we can be completely sure that it will reach its goal. We could think of a human-centered teleon, such as going to work every day. When we leave there is always a chance of an accident, an unexpected meeting with a friend or a car breaking down. The total uncertainty can be expressed by telentropy. Telentropy can be injected into teleons by interferring with the teleos, structure, process or the governance of the teleon. In living systems there is sufficient internal governance to eliminate the telentropy and
thus to ensure that the goals are attained. However, the means {or doing this are limited and can be exhausted. Such a state of affairs can lead to stress and disease of the teleon. In certain cases the telentropy can be channeled away from a teleon into other teleons, either at the same level or between different levels ol the hierarchy. If these teleons cannot control the resulting increase in telentropy efficiently, their operation will be unfavourably affected. It is a well known phenomenon in biology that the symptoms of disease appear at points which are remote lrom the cause of the disease. This is especially true for the so called psychosomatic diseases, where the cause might lie in unfulfilled (telentropic) psychological problems, yet the results manifest themselves as a cellular defect, such as cancer or an ulcer. In these cases the telentropy has been transferred away lrom the psyche to the cells. The same is true for other levels of the Biomatrix. Societal or organizational malfunction can be analyzed by following the movement of telentropy.
Telentropy is not always detrimental; it is an essential feature of creativity. It is due to the uncertainty of reaching of our goals that we think of new ways of doing things. By channeling telentropy in the right direction, growth and development of living systems can be attained.
A bibliography can be requested from the author.

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