The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory

The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory

The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory

The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory

Synopsis

This book explores the development of general systems theory and the individuals who gathered together around that idea to form the Society for General Systems Research. In examining the life and work of the SGSR's five founding members -- Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Ralph Gerard, James Grier Miller, and Anatol Rapoport -- Hammond traces the emergence of systems ideas across a broad range of disciplines in the mid-twentieth century. A metaphor and a framework, the systems concept as articulated by its earliest proponents highlights relationship and interconnectedness among the biological, ecological, social, psychological, and technological dimensions of our increasingly complex lives. Seeking to transcend the reductionism and mechanism of classical science -- which they saw as limited by its focus on the discrete, component parts of reality -- the general systems community hoped to complement this analytic approach with a more holistic approach. As one of many systems traditions, the general systems group was specifically interested in fostering collaboration and integration between different disciplinary perspectives. The book documents a unique episode in the history of modern thought, one that remains relevant today. This book will be of interest to historians of science, system theorists, and scholars in such fields as cybernetics and system dynamics.

Excerpt

am grateful to West Churchman for introducing me to the unique group of scholars who coalesced around Bertalanffy's concept of general systems theory. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Carolyn Merchant, the chair of my dissertation committee at UC Berkeley, for her wholehearted support. She has been an inspiring role model, mentor, and friend. Thanks are also due to the other members of my committee—David Hollinger, Jack Lesch, and Arnold Schultz—all of whom enriched the breadth of my perspective in tracing the emerging panoply of ideas that constellated around the concept of systems in the middle decades of the twentieth century. Fritjof Capra and Joanna Macy, visionary mentors from the larger community, provided considerable guidance and inspiration.

Miller and Rapoport are the only two of the original founders who are still living. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with both of them. Miller and his wife, Jessie, invited me into their home on two occasions and were most generous in sharing materials relating to the society's history. Jessie herself contributed substantially to the publication of Miller's Living Systems and I was very sorry to hear of her recent passing. She is one of the many women of systems who also deserve recognition. I also had an opportunity to meet briefly with Boulding's wife, Elise; though not active in the systems community, she is an accomplished scholar and dedicated peace activist in her own right.

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