by Tommy Mandel
Historically, the notions of systemic wholeness (systems) have appeared throughout recorded history in the systems of early Chinese thought (Yin/Yang), and early Western thought. (Empedocles “Earth”)
And then, in the modern era, the pendulum swung the other way, toward scientific analysis and reductionistic separations throughout the scientific era until as recently as the early 1920's, when the notion of wholeness and organism was talked about again by Weiss, Whitehead and Smuts. By 1933, Holism, the whole greater than the sum of the parts, was entered into the Encyclopedia. At that time too, Schroedingers quantum mechanics, of which he states, “form, not substance…” was developed to deal with relationships rather than absolute entities at the elementary particle level.
A biologist working by the name of Ludwig von Bertalanffy was working in his lab when he noticed particularily that there were certain isomorphic structures in the diverse collection of lab models stored on the shelfs of his lab. This lead to his notion of his theory of general systems which he first wrote about after WWII. He would later publish his book “General Systems Theory” which created a science of general systems.
He writes Yet there is a third reason for the isomorphism of laws in different realms which is important for the present purpose. In our consideration we started with a general definition of “system”; defined as “a set of elements in interaction” and expresses by the system of equation. No special hypothesis or statements were made about the nature of the system, of its elements or the relations between them. Nevertheless from this purely formal definition of “system” many properties follow which in part are expressed in as well known in various fields of science, and, in part concern concepts previously regarded as anthropomorphic, vitalistic or metaphysical. The parallelism of general conceptions or even special laws in different fields therefore is a consequence of the fact that these are concerned with “systems” and that certain general principles apply to systems irrespective of their nature. Hence principles such as those of wholeness and sum, mechanization, hierarchic order, approached to steady states, equifinality, etc., may appear in quite different disciplines. The isomorphism found in different realms is based of the existence of general system principles, of a more or less well-developed “general system theory.”(pp.84 GST)
Take the tour….genesis of general systems theory