Whole Systems Quotes


"A company is a multidimensional system capable of growth, expansion, and self-regulation. It is, therefore, not a thing but a set of interacting forces. Any theory of organization must be capable of reflecting a company's many facets, its dynamism, and its basic orderliness. When company organization is reviewed, or when reorganizing a company, it must be loked upon as a whole, as a total system."

- Albert Low
Zen and Creative Management


"When Simplicity is broken up, It is made into instruments. Evolved individuals who employ them, Are made into leaders. In this way, the Great System is United."

- Lao Tzu
The Tao Te Ching (Verse 28)


"The overall name of these interrelated structures is system. The motorcycle is a system. A real system. ...There's so much talk about the system. And so little understanding. That's all a motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There's no part in it, no shape in it that is not in someone's mind. I've noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this- that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon."

- Robert Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


"General Systems Theory, a related modern concept [to holism], says that each variable in any system interacts with the other variables so thoroughly that cause and effect cannot be separated. A simple variable can be both cause and effect. Reality will not be still. And it cannot be taken apart! You cannot understand a cell, a rat, a brain structure, a family, a culture if you isolate it from its context. Relationship is everything."

- Marilyn Ferguson
The Aquarian Conspiracy


"Item: I have been trying to think of the earth as a kind of organism, but it is no go. I cannot think of it this way. It is too big, too complex, with too many working parts lacking visible connections. The other night, driving through a hilly, wooded part of southern New England, I wondered about this. If not like an organism, what is it most like? Then, satisfactorily, for that moment, it came to me: it is most like a cell."

- Lewis Thomas
The Lives of a Cell


"The systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration. Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or basic substances, the systems approach emphasizes basic principles of organization. Every organism- from the smallest bacterium through the wide range or plants and animals to humans is an integrated whole and thus a living system. ...But systems are not confined to individual organisms and their parts. The same aspects of wholeness are exhibited by social systems- such as an anthill, a beehive, or a human family- and by ecosystems that consist of a variety of organisms and inanimate matter in mutual interaction. What is preserved in a wilderness area is not individual trees or organisms but a complex web of relationships between them.

All these natural systems are wholes whose specfic structures arise from the interactions and interdependence of their parts. The activity of systems involves a process known as transaction- the simultaneous and mutually interdependent interaction between multiple components."

- Fritjof Capra
The Turning Point


"A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system. ...A system must be managed. The secret is cooperation between components toward the aim of the organization. We cannot afford the destructive effect of competition."

- W. Edwards Deming
The New Economics


"A 'system' can be defined as a complex of elements standing in interaction. There are general principles holding for systems, irrespective of the nature of the component elements and the relations of forces between them. ...In modern science, dynamic interaction is the basic problem in all fields, and its general principles will have to be formulated in general General Systems Theory."

- Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Problems of Life


"Everything affects everything else in one way or another. Whether you are aware of that or not does not change the fact that this is what is happening. That's why I say a business is a system. This systems perspective reminds us that this is what is going on. And when you see it this way, you can manage your business better. You appreciate, for example, that any action will reverberate throughout the entire company. This causes you to pay more attention to what you do, and learn the right lessons from your experience."

- John Woods
Work in Progress


"Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static Ńsnapshots.ń It is a set of general principles- distilled over the course of the twentieth century, spanning fields as diverse as the physical and social sciences, engineering, and management. ...During the last thirty years, these tools have been applied to understand a wide range of corporate, urban, regional, economic, political, ecological, and even psychological systems. And systems thinking is a sensibility- for the subtle interconnectedness that gives living systems their unique character."

- Peter Senge
The Fifth Discipline


"While a self-organizing system's openness to new forms and new environments might seem to make it too fluid, spineless, and hard to define, this is not the case. Though flexible, a self-organizing structure is no mere passive reactor to external fluctuations. As it matures and stabilizes, it becomes more efficient in the use of its resources and better able to exist within its environment. It establishes a basic structure that supports the development of the system. This structure then facilitates an insulation from the environment that protects the system from constant, reactive changes."

- Margaret Wheatley
Leadership and the New Science


"The fundamental concepts that recur most often in biological, ecological, and economic models can easily be grouped into major categories: energy and its use; flows, cycles, and stocks; communication networks; catalysts and transforming agents; the readjustment of equilibriums; stability, growth, and evolution. And above all, the concept of the system- living system, economic system, ecosystem- that binds all together all the others. "

- Joel de Rosnay
The Macroscope


"1. The Shallow Ecology movement: Fight against pollution and resource depletion. Central objective: the health and affluence of people in the developed countries.

2. The Deep Ecology movement: Rejection of the man-in-environment image in favor the relational, total-field image. Organisms as knots in the biospherical net or field of intrinsic relations. An intrinsic relation between two things A and B is such that the relation belongs to the definitions of basic constitutions of A and B, so that without the relation, A and B are no longer the same things. The total-field dissolves not on the man-in-environment concept, but every compact thing-in-milieu concept- except when talking at a superficial or preliminary level of communication."

- Arne Naess
"The Shallow and Deep Ecology Movements"


"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to cooperate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for)."

- Aldo Leopold
The Land Ethic


"My friend, all theory is gray, and the Golden tree of life is green."

- Goethe


"Indeed, to some extent it has always been necessary and proper for man, in his thinking, to divide things up, if we tried to deal with the whole of reality at once, we would be swamped. However when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man's notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives, (i.e. in his world-view) then man ceases to regard the resultant divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and this world as actually constituted of separately existing fragments. What is needed is a relativistic theory, to give up altogether the notion that the world is constituted of basic objects or building blocks. Rather one has to view the world in terms of universal flux of events and processes."

- David Bohm


"The dramatic change in concepts and ideas that happened in physics during the first three decades of this century has been widely discussed by physicists and philosophers for more than fifty years...The intellectual crisis of quantum physicists in the 1920's is mirrored today by a similar but much broader cultural crisis. The major problems of our time...are all different facets of one single crisis, which is essentially a crisis of perception...Like the crisis in quantum physics, it derives from the fact that most of us. and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated world view...At the same time researchers...are developing a new vision of reality...emerging from modern physics can be characterized by words like organic,holistic, and ecological. It might also be called a systems view, in the sense of general systems theory.

The universe is no longer seen as a machine, made up of a multitude of objects, but has to be pictured as one indivisible dynamic whole whose parts are essentially interrelated and can be understood only as patterns of a cosmic process". What we are seeing today is a shift of paradigms not only within science but also in the larger social arena...The social paradigm now receding had dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world...This paradigm consists of...the view of the world as a mechanical system, the view of the body as a machine...the view of life as a competitive struggle...the belief of unlimited of unlimited progress achieved through economic and technological growth and the belief that the female is subsumed under the male...During recent decades all these assumptions have been severely limited and in need of radical revision. Indeed, such a revision is now taking place...

In science, the language of systems theory. and especially the theory of living systems, seems to provide the most appropriate formulation of the new ecological paradigm. I would like to now specify what is meant by the systems approach...

I shall identify five criteria of systems approach...

1. Shift from the parts to the whole. The properties of the parts can be understood only from the dynamics of the whole. In fact, ultimately there are no parts at all.
2. Shift from the structure to the process. In the new paradigm, every structure is seen as a manifestation of an underlying process.
3. Shift from objective to epistemic science. In the new paradigm, it is believed the epistemology - the understanding of the process of knowledge - has to be included explicitly in the description of natural phenomenon...
4. A shift from building to networks as a metaphor of knowledge. In the new paradigm, the metaphor of knowledge as a building is being replaced by that of the network.
5. Shift from truth to approximate descriptions. This insight is crucial to all modern science...in the new paradigm, it is recognized that all scientific concepts and theories are limited and approximate...

One of the most important insights of the new systems theory is that life and cognition are inseparable. The process of knowledge is also the process of self-organization, that is, the process of life. Our conventional model of knowledge is one of representation or an image of independently existing facts which is the model derived from classical physics. From, the new systems point of view, knowledge is a part of the process of life, of a dialogue between subject and object. I believe that the world view implied by modern physics is inconsistent with our present society, which does not reflect the interrelatedness we observe in nature. To achieve such a state of dynamic balance, a radically different social and economic structure will be needed; a cultural revolution in the true sense of the word. The survival of our whole civilization may depend on whether we can bring about such a change. It will depend ultimately, on our ability to...experience the wholeness of nature and the art of living with it in harmony."

- Fritjof Capra


"Our civilization seems to be suffering a second curse of Babel: Just as the human race builds a tower of knowledge that reaches to the heavens, we are stricken by a malady in which we find ourselves attempting to communicate with each other in countless tongues of scientific specialization... The only goal of science appeared to be analytical, i.e., the splitting up of reality into ever smaller units and the isolation of individual causal trains...We may state as characteristic of modern science that this scheme of isolable units acting in one-way causality has proven to be insufficient. Hence the appearance, in all fields of science, of notions like wholeness, holistic, organismic, gestalt, etc., which all signify that, in the last resort, we must think in terms of systems of elements in mutual interaction..."

"There is this hope, I cannot promise you whether or when it will be realized - that the mechanistic paradigm, with all its implications in science as well as in society and our own private life, will be replaced by an organismic or systems paradigm that will offer new pathways for our presently schizophrenic and self-destructive civilization."

"General Systems theory should be an important means of instigating the transfer of principles from one field to another (so that it would) no longer be necessary to duplicate the discovery of the same principles in different fields."

- Ludwig von Bertalanffy


"While each scientific theory selects out and abstracts from the world's complexity a peculiar set of relations, philosophy cannot favor any particular region of human enterprise. Through conceptual experimentation it must construct a consistency that can accommodate all dimensions of experience, whether they belong to physics, physiology, psychology, biology, ethics, etc.."

- Alfred North Whitehead


"A long standing ambition of physicists is to construct a single master theory that would incorporate all the known forces. One imagines that such a theory would reveal some deep connection between the various forces while accounting for their apparent diversity. Such a unification has not been attained, but in recent years some progress may have been made...What may ultimately prove more important, all four forces are now described by means of theories that have the same general form. Thus if physicists have yet to find a single key that fits all the known locks, at least all the needed keys can be cut from the same blank."

- Gerard t'Hooft


"a theory of everything which will unite all the laws of nature into a single expression... an abbreviated representation of the logic behind the universes's properties...a single coherant framework...an encapulation of all the laws of nature...a simple and single representation...the ultimate directory...an independent prescription which appeals to simplicity, naturalness and economy...a union of perefect and unique intercompatibility..a general principle...which can be applied in a varity of different situations without becoming embroiled in their pecularities...Perhaps there exist a whole set of basic rules about the development of complexity which reduce to some of our simpler laws of nature in situations where the level of complexity is essential nil. If such rules do exist, then they are not like the laws which the particle physicists seek. But is there any evidence that such principles exist? collection of 1027 protons, neutrons and electrons may be all that a desk-top computer is at some level, but clearly the way in which those sub-attomic particles are put together, is what distinguishes the computer from a crowd of 1027 separate sub-atomic particles. ...The question of the existence of a "secret of the Universe" amounts to discovering whether there is some deep principle from which all other knowldege of the physical world follows..."

- John Barrow


"Of all these examples, the simplest but the most profound is the fact that it takes at least two somethings to create a difference. To produce news of difference, i.e., information, there must be two entities (real or imagined) such that the difference betweeen them can be immanent in their mutual relationships; and the whole affair must be such that news of their difference can be represented as a difference inside some information-processing entity, such as a brain, or, perhaps, acomputer. "To what questions have fifty years of science led me? This chapter has defined and exemplified a manner of search and therefore it is the moment to raise two questions; For what am I searching? To what questions have fifty years of science led me. The manner of search is plain to me, it might be called the method of double or multiple comparison." Thus the whole, in which such instances are placed...become a display inviting the reader to ahieve insight by comparing instances one with another,"

- Gregory Bateson


"It appears that all units of reality are comprised of two basic elements in an asymmetrical binary relationship in dynamic interaction..." (p.38) "As noted above, one of the basic ideas that underlies my thinking, one of the images I have in mind when I contemplate the universe, is that it is constructed upon a simple pattern of order that may be seen in any and all phenomena, no matter how complex. The simple pattern is that of a binary relationship, recognized in a binary system. The implication here is that everything in nature, everything in the universe, is composed of networks of two elements, or two parts in functional relationship to each other..."(p.39) "The most fundamental phenomenon in the universe is relationship."(p.44)

- Jonas Salk


"The Tao begot one, one begot two, two begot three. The three begot the ten thousand things. The ten thousand things embrace Yin and express Yang. Harmony is achieved by combining these forces."

- Tao Te Ching


"The Tao that is told is not the Tao."

- Tao Te Ching


Thanks to John Woods <jwoods@execpc.com> and Tom Mandel <Thommandel@aol.com>