Information as a System
By Gyorgy Jaros
In the classical General Systems view, emphasis is being placed on systems as being things or entities defined by definite physical boundaries. In fact, the definition of a boundary, even though in most cases arbitrary, is the main feature of most systems approaches. Systems are generally organised into larger and larger entities and thus each becoming a subsystem in a larger suprasystem. Thus, there exists a concentric or Russian Doll hierarchy that ranges from submolecular particles to the entire universe. Systems theories study the interaction between entities and look for common principles that apply to the various levels of the concentric hierarchy.
Teleonics is a systems approach with a subtle, but very important difference (Jaros & Cloete, 1987; Jaros & Cloete, 1993) . The systems in Teleonics are processes that do not have physical boundaries, but are informationally bonded.
It is argued that these informationally bonded processes are the basic ingredients of life and entities, which appear only as the result of processes, are of secondary importance. Thus, in Teleonics one does not speak of interaction between entities, but interaction between processes.
By definition (pro = for, in front, etc. and cedere = to go), processes have some kind of goal, end point or destination, which may or may not be intentionally determined. We refer to this “go-for-it” quality as goal-relatedness. The information bondedness of processes is in fact intimately related to their goal-relatedness, which can include goal-seeking as well as goal-directed behaviour. It is because of this important property, that we refer to the study of the behaviour of goal-related processes as Teleonics.
To focus on processes as the major ingredients of life, of course, does not deny the existence of entities. Although, according to Teleonics, I am principally a bundle of processes, I remain an individual, albeit with somewhat indefinable boundaries. For example, the ideas I am putting into my computer at the moment remain very much part of me, even though they are situated outside my skin in a machine which will take them away to distant countries, where they will pass through someone else's machine and eventually someone else's mind. The ideas you are contemplating at the moment, are they yours or mine? Neither. They are part of a process of explaining teleonics, that has flown through my mind and at the present is flowing through your mind and interacting with some of your processes of thinking about systems. My skin and your skin become unimportant as a boundaries in this game. We are both part of the same system.
The difference between entities and processes is somewhat similar to that between particles and waves in physics. While both are true, it might be more advantageous to use one or the other as the situation requires. It might also be advantageous to speak about processes than entities in certain situations.
When one is dealing primarily with processes, viz, with “going-for something”, the concept of uncertainty becomes very important. While a process is occurring there is always a doubt whether the goal will be eventually reached. One can actually say that goal-related processes are organised in order to reduce the uncertainty about reaching their goals. There are generally complex feedback arrangements that provide governance in order to ensure that envisaged goals are actually reached. If a process is well constructed there is more certainty about its success. Thus uncertainty is somehow related to the efficiency of the process. In complex networks of processes, there is an intimate interaction between processes that creates a chance for the reduction of uncertainty. However, by reducing the uncertainty of one process can create uncertainty in another process or processes. One can thus talk about the transfer of uncertainty.
In a complex network, the transfer of uncertainty can have beneficial as well as undesirable consequences. Tracing the path of transfer can provide one with useful information about the state or health of the network. This, for example, is very useful when dealing with the diagnosis and management of disease.
The fabric of life is composed of processes, that connect the various levels of the concentric hierarchy. There are basically two directions which processes can follow. These directions are determined by the location of the goal towards which the processes strive. If the goal of a process is defined with respect to a level inside the level of observation, one speaks of an inward process. Conversely, if the goal is defined with respect to the outside the level of observation, the process is an outward process.
Entities are composed of bundles of inward and outward processes. This duality is essential as it enables entities to maintain their positions within the complex fabric of life. Let us take the human being as an example. Passing through the human being, there are inward processes, which have their goals defined with respect to the cells of the individual. Such process is, for example, the oxygen supplying process that takes oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere and channels it to the cells. This process is very accurately controlled according to the requirements of the cells.
The goal of the process, which is operating mainly at the level of the human organism, is thus at the cellular level. The outward human processes are those which have their goals defined with respect a level outside the individual. Movement and communication of an individual take place with respect to the social as well as the physical environment. In an individual, both the inward and outward processes are essential. A person can only be considered healthy if he or she is able to maintain the functioning of most of the cells in his or her body, while at the same time maintaining a harmonious relationship with his or her external environment.
Obviously, in addition to the processes that interconnect the levels, there are internal processes within the entities themselves, acting within a single level, between the former. These are extremely important as they provide the “glue” that holds the inward and outward processes together, maintains their synergy and are thus are responsible for the formation of entities.
In the fabric of life, the above named duality exists on all levels; from subatomic to the universal. The inward and outward processes can pass through several if not all levels of the fabric. The nature of the two kind of processes is different but complementary. The inward processes are generally maintaining and integrative in nature, while the outward processes are creative and differentiative. They are both needed at all levels of the concentric hierarchy.
By knowing the role of the two kinds of processes within the right locations of the fabric of life, their complementarity can be turned to advantage. It is not through a balancing of the two tendencies by compromise, but through their judicious mutual optimisation that the best results are achieved.
Teleonics can provide a useful method for dealing with complex living systems. It has been used for looking at problems in psychology (Edwards & Jaros, 1994a; Edwards & Jaros, 1995; Pastoll & Jaros, 1994) , business (Dostal & Jaros, 1994b; Jaros & Dostal, 1995) education (Dostal & Jaros, 1995) , societal organisation (Dostal & Jaros, 1994a), healthcare (Edwards & Jaros, 1994b; Jaros & Baker, 1995; Jaros, Irlam & Vurgarellis, 1994) and development (Dodds & Jaros, 1994; Dodds & Jaros, 1995)
References: Dodds, M. M. A., & Jaros, G. G. (1994). The name of the devil is suboptimisation. World Futures, 43, 1-38.
Dodds, M. M. A., & Jaros, G. G. (1995). Development in terms of the Biomatrix. World Futures, 40, 1-28.
Dostal, E., & Jaros, G. G. (1994a). Applying the Biomatrix Theory to the governance of societies. In B. Brady & L. Peeno (Eds.), New systems thinking and action for a new century, (pp. 1213-1220). Louisville, Kentucky, USA: International Society for the System Sciences.
Dostal, E., & Jaros, G. G. (1994b). The teleonics view of a matrix organisation. In B. Brady & L. Peeno (Eds.), New systems thinking and action for a new century., . Louisville, Kentucky, USA,: International Society for the System Sciences.
Dostal, E., & Jaros, G. G. (1995). Considerations regarding educational policy and the governance of educational processes using the Biomatrix Approach. Systems Practice, in press.
Edwards, L. B., & Jaros, G. G. (1994a). Process-based Systems Thinking–Challenging the Boundaries. J of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 17, 339-353.
Edwards, L. B., & Jaros, G. G. (1994b). A survey of rural cancer patients cope using teleonics for interpretation. In B. Brady & L. Peeno (Eds.), New Systems thinking and action for the new century, (pp. 431-438). Louisville, Kentucky, USA,: International Society for the System Sciences.
Edwards, L. B., & Jaros, G. G. (1995). Psychology, a discipline with structure-based history and a process-based future. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 18, 67-85.
Jaros, G. G., & Baker, A. B. (1995). Safety and accidents in anaesthesia: the use of teleonics. In W. Hutchinson, S. Metcalf, C. Standing, & M. Williams (Eds.), Systems for the future, . Perth, Australia: Edith Cowan University.
Jaros, G. G., & Cloete, A. (1987). Biomatrix : the web of life. World Futures ,, 23, 215-236.
Jaros, G. G., & Cloete, A. (1993). Teleonics : The Science of Purposeful Processes. In R. Peckham (Ed.), The ethical management of science as a system., . Louisville, Kentucky, USA: The International Society for the Systems Sciences.
Jaros, G. G., & Dostal, E. (1995). Organisation as a Doublet. Systems Practice, in press.
Jaros, G. G., Irlam, J., & Vurgarellis, P. (1994). The Hospital as a Doublet. Systems Practice, 7, 297-310.
Pastoll, G., & Jaros, G. G. (1994). Settling on what we are : The central place of the sense-of-self in education and the implication of the concepts of the teleon and telentropy for the development of the sense-of-self. World Futures, 37, 1-17.
Gyuri Jaros, PhD?, FIEAust?, CPEng? (Biomed.) Associate Professor Department of Anaesthetics University of Sydney NSW 2006 AUSTRALIA Tel: +61-2-351-5573 (NB New Number) Fax: +61-2-519-2455 e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org (or email@example.com)
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