To an ordinary soul it seldom occurs to consider whether his kitchen is polluting the atmosphere or not. Suddenly scientists raised the alarm that the future of mankind is at stake. Indiscriminate industrialization, atomic wastes, deforestation, extensive use of pest-controlling chemicals are creating the greatest danger for mankind. We have to try to understand our relation with nature as a system and within this system its different functional connections.
Modern technology is no longer concerned only with a particular machine or instrument because, unlike earlier industry, modern industries are integrally connected with a. whole system.
Similarly in sociology or psychology it is not the study of parts and their summation but a structural functional systematic approach which gives us a true picture of the subject.
It is the inadequacy of the older mechanistic e1ementalist approach that helped raise science to a higher plane but failed to reveal the true picture of a systematic object which resulted in the emergence of a systematic, structural-functional approach.[ih`c-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”block” ihc_mb_who=”unreg” ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]
Here is a monograph by some eminent Soviet authors who have presented a comprehensive account of the systems theory, its history, its content, development problems and significance.
In modern science and technology the systemic approach is a fast developing new trend, a general scientific and methodological conception. The authors have tried to investigate the philosophical and methodological significance from the point of view of dialectical materialism and have traced the development of the systems theory in the 20th century, analysing different approaches to evolving a general systems theory.
Dialectical materialist philosophy is not a finished system of philosophy. It develops along with the development of sciences. It acquires new concepts and gives deeper meaning to the older concepts. The authors have tried to prove that the systems approach does not in any way oppose dialectics, rather it is a manifestation of the influence of dialectics on modern science. It is one of the applications of the general methodological concepts of dialectics to specific materials.
Systems approach arose as one of the methodological trends in modern science as a way out of the crisis in scientific knowledge at the turn of the 20th century along with other prominent trends such as structural-functional analysis in sociology and structuralism in humanities. All these trends have much in common and sprang from the critique of some fundamental classical concepts as for example elementalism and mechanism.
As opposed to elementalism there was an integrated approach which rejected the idea that the whole is nothing but the sum-total of the parts because some of the qualities of the whole were not found in the parts. This trend remained at best at the speculative level and science in general was dominated by elementalism.
In spite of the dominance of elementalism, the integrative approach was not brushed aside, and all sciences had to detect the specific properties of the whole. ‘Thus scientific knowledge as a whole had developed within the elementalism vs integration dichotomy, and the possibilities inherent in this dichotomy have been far from exhausted’.
‘Since Descartes and Locke, there came the realization of the inadequacy not only of elementalism or its opposite, the conception of wholeness as such, but of the very way of thinking confined within such a dichotomy.’
Classical German philosophy tried to overcome this dichotomy. Kant revealed that knowledge not only depends on its object, but also upon existing thought forms. This ‘means that knowledge cannot be treated as simple reflection of reality uninfluenced by the constructive work of thought itself which creates the forms of the cognitive process.’
After Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel developed the dialectical method of thinking which had its ‘material exclusively from forms of cognitive in the field of psychology also this activity’ as against ‘existing forms of trend developed from gestalt psychology scientific thinking and their elementalist-mechanistic limitation’. Thus the ‘dichotomous approach to reality was dealt a severe blow’. ‘The new methodology of scientific enquiry that emerged at that time was increasingly concerned with the investigation of inner ‘mechanisms’ of life and the development of complex objects of reality’.
Marxism took account of the ‘methodological gains of German classical philosophy and assimilated the rich possibilities of dialectical analysis’. Marx’s understanding of the capitalist mode of production arose out of the application of a new methodological principle. He selected commodity as the cell of this system of production expressing interaction between man and nature and the relationship between people. He got this result ‘through an all-embracing reconstruction of the object by the method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete’. Cell (commodity) comprises ‘not only the substantive but also the structural properties of the object under study; and that is why the notions of part and whole as such are inapplicable to it.’
In biology Darwin brought a change from organism-centrist to species-centrist notion which ended the mechanistic conception of animate nature as a conglomerate of separate organisms.
Strict determinism as a sort of blind necessity was thus challenged, and cause-effect relationship came to be treated as not the only connection but was ‘regarded on a par with functional, correlative, genetic and other relationships’.
In the field of psychology also this trend developed from gestalt psychology and carried forward by Vygotsky and Piaget. It was no longer a search for the ultimate unit but a whole imposed from above by society. In linguistics and ethnography also, system-structural orientation proved fruitful.
L.von Bertalanffy advanced a general systems theory more than a quarter century ago. Although his theory was built within the framework of modern theoretical biology, it is now clear that this has a more ‘general significance of formulating principles of a general systems approach to the analysis of objects of reality’. He first put forward the idea that organism is an open system. His organismic concepts were based on the idea that ‘organism is not a conglomerate of separate elements, but a certain system possessing organization and wholeness’ and ‘this system is continually changing’. He also thought that knowledge of such object needed a change in the method of thinking as against the old analytical summative approach which proceeded from understanding of the properties of the parts. According to Bertalanffy an organism is not a conglomerate of separate elements, but a certain ‘system possessing organization and wholeness’. By system Bertalanffy means ‘complexes of elements standing in interaction’. Any system is called closed if it neither takes in nor emits matter (only energy exchange is possible).
Introduction of general systems theory was necessitated by the change in the conceptual pictures of the world by science in the 20th century. It recognizes three stages in the development of object in scientific analysis: (1) organized simplicity, (2) un-organized complexity, and (3) organized complexity.
In opposition to reductionism, the need for constructing a unified science on the basis of perspectivism was felt by the developing science. Perspectivism is founded on the idea that general categories of thought are similar in widely differing branches of modem science; hence the possibility of evolving a unified science on the basis of isomorphy of laws in its various fields. That makes it possible to speak of the structural similarity of the theoretical models used in various fields of science.
The principal aims of general systems theory are: (I) formulating general principles and laws for systems irrespective of their specific features, the nature of their constituent elements and relationship between them; (2) formulating precise and rigorous laws of a special type for non-physical fields of knowledge though the analysis of biological, social and the behavioural objects as system; (3) creating a basis for the synthesis of modern scientific knowledge by revealing the isomorphy of the laws pertaining to different spheres of reality.
Because of its general nature, systems theory is directly associated with philosophy. Naturally tremendous interest has been shown in it by adherents of dialectical materialism. In fact Karl Marx presented the capitalist formation as a systemic whole, The authors of this monograph have correctly shown that, in spite of its tremendous significance, systems theory cannot replace dialectical materialism and cannot be equated with philosophy.
The authors have discussed the logical and methodological problem of systems research. Whether something is a system or not is not immediately clear. The system character is apprehended intuitively. After studying the phenomenal properties, a specific, theoretical model is evolved in which the dynamics of various internal and external interrelations are revealed. This cannot be done by non-system methodology but by appropriate conceptual tools.
Although the book is meant for researchers, social scientists and philosophers, general readers interested in these subjects will be able to acquire some general idea from this monograph.
Kalidas Sikdar is a Marxist intellectural, specialized in philosophy