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glossary

Glossary of key terms used by systemists Because systems language introduces many new terms and new meanings essential to understanding how a system works, a glossary of many of the significant terms follows:

‘Adaptive capacity:’ An important part of the resilience of systems in the face of a perturbation, helping to minimise loss of function in individual human, and collective social and biological systems.

‘Autopoiesis:’ The process by which a system regenerates itself through the self-reproduction of its own elements and of the network of interactions that characterize them. An autopoietic system renews, repairs, and replicates or reproduces itself in a flow of matter and energy. Note: from a strictly Maturanian point of view, autopoiesis is an essential property of biological/living systems.

‘Boundaries:’ The parametric conditions, often vague, always subjectively stipulated, that delimit and define a system and set it apart from its environment.

‘Catastrophe:’ A mathematical description of a sudden and/or radical change in form, or a similar qualitative change in condition; relates to the theories of Réne Thom. closed system: A state of being isolated from the environment. No system can be completely closed; there are only varying degrees of closure.

‘Complexity:’ A systemic characteristic that stands for a large number of densely connected parts and multiple levels of embeddedness and entanglement. Not to be confused with complicatedness, which denotes a situation or event that is not easy to understand, regardless of its degree of complexity.

‘Culture:’ The result of individual learning processes that distinguish one social group of higher animals from another. In humans culture is the set of products and activities through which humans express themselves and become aware of themselves and the world around them. See cognitive map.

‘Development:’ The process of liberating a system from its previous set of limiting conditions. It is an amelioration of conditions or quality. See growth and evolution.

‘Dissipative structure:’ A term invented by Ilya Prigogine to describe complex chemical structures undergoing the process of chemical change through the dissipation of entropy into their environment, and the corresponding importation of “negentropy” from their environment. Also known as syntropic systems.

‘Embeddedness:’ A state in which one system is nested in another system.

‘Emergence:’ The appearance of novel characteristics exhibited on the level of the whole ensemble, but not by the components in isolation.

‘Entanglement:’ A state in which the manner of being, or form of existence, of one system is inextricably tied to that of another system or set of systems.

‘Entropy:’ In thermodynamics, entropy is a measure of energy that is expended in a physical system but does no useful work, and tends to decrease the organizational order of the system. Environment: The context within which a system exists. It is composed of all things that are external to the system, and it includes everything that may affect the system, and may be affected by it at any given time.

‘Evolution:’ A cosmic process specified by a fundamental universal flow toward ever increasing complexity that manifests itself through particular events and sequences of events that are not limited to the domain of biological phenomenon, but extend to include all aspects of change in open dynamic systems with a throughput of information and energy. In other words, evolution relates to the formation of stars from atoms, of Homo sapiens from the anthropoid apes, and the formation of complex societies from rudimentary social systems.

‘Evolutionary Development:’ A form of sustainable development concerned with the study of human change in an evolutionary context.

‘Evolutionary Leadership:’ The form of leadership required for successful sustainability management in an evolutionary context.

‘Evolutionary Learning:’ A community that strives toward sustainable pathways for Community (ELC) evolutionary development, in synergistic interaction with its milieu, through individual and collective processes of empowerment, and evolutionary learning. ELC’s do not adapt their environment to their needs, nor do they simply adapt to their environment. Rather, they adapt with their environment in a dynamic of mutually sustaining evolutionary co-creation.

‘Feedback:’ A process by which information concerning the adequacy of the system, its operation, and its outputs are introduced into the system. Negative feedback tells us that there is a discrepancy between what the system produces and what it should produce. It tells us that we should change something in the system so that we can reduce the deviation from the norms stated in the output model of the system. Positive feedback, on the other hand, tells us that the whole system should change, that we should increase the deviation from the present state, and change the output model.

‘Feedforward:’ A process, akin to feedback, that informs current operations with future ideals, and adjusts the output model accordingly.

‘Function:’ Denotes actions that are required to be carried out in order to meet systems requirements and attain the purpose(s) of the system.

‘Functions/structure:’ Structural functionalism is a systems model that organizes in relational arrangements model systems concepts and principles that present an image of a system in a given moment of time. A metaphor for this is a “still-picture” or “snapshot” of the system.

‘Heterarchy:’ An ordering of things in which there is no single peak or leading element, and which element is dominant at a given time depends on the total situation, often used in contrast to hierarchy, also a vertical arrangement of entities (systems and their subsystems), usually ordered from the top downwards rather than from the bottom upwards.

‘Holarchy:’ A concept invented by Arthur Köestler to describe behavior that is partly a function of individual nature and partly a function of the nature of the embedding system, generally operating in a bottom upwards fashion.

‘Holism:’ A non-reductionist descriptive and investigative strategy for generating explanatory principles of whole systems. Attention is focused on the emergent properties of the whole rather than on the reductionist behavior of the isolated parts. The approach typically involves and generates empathetic, experiential, and intuitive understanding, not merely analytic understanding, since by the definition of the approach, these forms are not truly separable (as nothing is).

‘Hologram:’ A three-dimensional photograph created by the interference pattern of two laser beams with the result that each discrete aspect of the image contains all the information necessary to reconstruct the entire image so that, in effect, the whole is contained in all the parts.

‘Holon:’ A whole in itself as well as a part of a larger system.

‘Human Activity Systems:’ Designed social systems organized for a purpose, which they attain by carrying out specific functions. Learning: A lifelong process that at the core of adaptive capacity. In human terms it involves a) challenges the learner’s perspective and facilitates the expansion of his/her worldview; b) promotes human fulfillment; c) enables the learner to cope with uncertainty and complexity; and d) empowers the learner to creatively shape change and design the future.

‘Lowerarchy:’ A specific type of hierarchy involving a ‘bottom up’ arrangement of entities such that the few are influenced by the many.

‘Model building:’ A disciplined inquiry by which a conceptual (abstract) representation of a system is constructed or a representation of expected outcomes/output is portrayed.

‘Open system:’ A state and characteristics of that state in which a system continuously interacts with its environment. Open systems are those that maintain their state and exhibit the characteristics of openness previously mentioned.

‘Organizational learning:’ A process of developing organizational capacity and human capability to articulate and continuously examine the purposes, underlying perspectives and assumptions, and individual and organizational values in view of the (a) performance of the organization, and (b) the changing characteristics and expectations of the environment(s) in which the organization is embedded.

‘Paradigms:’ The set of fundamental beliefs, axioms, and assumptions that order and provide coherence to our perception of what is and how it works; a basic world view; also, example cases and metaphors. See cognitive map.

‘Process model:’ An organized arrangement of systems concepts and principles that portray the behavior of a system through time. Its metaphor is the “motion-picture” of “movie” of the system.

‘Reductionism:’ One kind of scientific orientation that seeks to understand phenomena by a) breaking them down into their smallest possible parts: a process known as analytic reductionism, or conversely b) conflating them to a one-dimensional totality: a process known as holistic reductionism.

‘Relationship:’ In the most general sense, a relationship is an interaction between the elements of a system. If the elements of the system are things, then the relationship is what those things are doing to each other. This interaction results in emergent properties which are perceived as the whole such as the wetness of the two gases of water.

‘Subsystem:’ A major component of a system. It is made up of two or more interacting and interdependent components. Subsystems of a system interact in order to attain their own purpose(s) and the purpose(s) of the system in which they are embedded.

‘Suprasystem:’ The entity that is composed of a number of component systems organized in interacting relationships in order to serve their embedding suprasystem.

‘Sustainable development:’ A process of human development (individual, societal, or global) that can be said to be socially and ecologically sustainable if it involves an adaptive strategy that ensures the evolutionary maintenance of an increasingly robust and supportive environment. Such a process enhances the possibility that human and other life will flourish in this planet indefinitely.

‘Sustainability:’ The ability of a system to maintain itself with no loss of function for extended periods of time. In human terms it is the creative and responsible stewardship of resources — human, Management natural, and financial — to generate stakeholder value while contributing to the well-being of current and future generations of all beings.

‘Synchrony:’ Also synchronicity. In engineering; concurrence of periods and/or phases; simultaneity of events or motions: contemporaneous occurrences. In evolutionary systems thinking; a fortunate coincidence of phenomenon and/or of events.

‘Synergy:’ Also system. Working together. Synergy is the process by which a system generates emergent properties resulting in the condition in which a system may be considered more than the sum of its parts, and equal to the sum of its parts plus their relationships. This resulting condition can be said to be one of synergy.

‘Syntony:’ In evolutionary systems thinking; evolutionary consonance; the occurrence and persistence of an evolutionarily tuned dynamic regime. Conscious intention aligned with evolutionary purpose; more loosely, the embodiment and manifestation of conscious evolution; a purposeful creative aligning and tuning with the evolutionary flows of one’s milieu. In traditional radio engineering; resonance.

‘Syntropy:’ The process of negentropy-importation. A syntropic system is a dissipative structure.

‘System:’ A group of interacting components that conserves some identifiable set of relations with the sum of their components plus their relationships (i.e., the system itself) conserving some identifiable set of relationships to other entities (including other systems).

‘System Domains:’ Philosophy; Theory; Methodology; Application.

‘System-environment:’ A model to examine and define a system in its model context and to organize systems concepts and principles that are relevant to system-environment interactions.

‘Systematic thinking:’ Any methodical step-by-step approach that is carried out according to a pre-determined algorithm or a fixed plan.

‘Systems approach:’ A view that perceives phenomena as a system and deals with problem situations and opportunities that emerge by the application of systems thinking.

‘Systems design:’ A decision-oriented disciplined inquiry that aims at the construction of a model that is an abstract representation of a future system.

‘Systems thinking:’ An internalized manifestation (in the thinking of individuals or social systems) of systems concepts, systems principles, and systems models.

‘Wholeness:’ In reference to systems, the condition in which systems are NOT seen to be structurally divisible, but functionally indivisible wholes with emergent properties.

glossary.txt · Last modified: 2015/01/31 23:55 (external edit)