Systems theory

[From Cliff Joslyn 940220]

From Rick Marken (940219.1330)

Well. I'm not sure what to say about this. It's such a collection of
vitriolic ad hominems that it's difficult to know just how to respond. A
point by point rebuttal? It's hard to see where the specific points are. A
corresponding abusive broadside? That's not my style, and I want to elevate
the conversation. So I'll try to muddle through as best I can.

Let me also quickly say that while I am highly critical of Rick's comments,
I have generally found his approach to PCT a very wise one (I cite "The
Nature of Behavior" often). So nothing personal, Rick.

Now on with the show.

I guess I first have some questions for Rick, namely, does your knowledge
of Systems Theory (ST) extend beyond "Mindwalk"?

If so, then please make your SPECIFIC criticisms of the likes of Bateson,
von Bertallanfy, Ashby, Klir, Miller, Bunge, Checkland, Gaines, Goguen,
Rosen, Mesarovic, Forrester, Boulding (in this response I dare not add
Powers to that list, but you can bet your ass I would anywhere else!), or
anyone else you care to throw up as a paragon of ST stupidity. What about
Klir's new _Factes of Systems Science_ as a point of departure? (By the
way, you share my sympathy about Maturana).

If not, then I would politely suggest that judging Systems Theory by
"Mindwalk" (which I have seen) would be like judging PCT by "Neuromancer".

On a purely selfish basis, I think PCT has little to gain by attacking ST,
especially in such a stupid way (the attack is stupid, Rick, not you). You
risk alienating even more people than you already have with the appearance
of ideological intransigence (note I said the APPEARANCE of
intransigence). To my mind, the dual fields of ST and Cybernetics
together form the crucial basis for everything in PCT, and conversely PCT
represents the hope for a full flowering that ST and Cybernetics have
promised for decades, but have never come close to fulfilling (would that
they recognized this). You have few enough friends out there to go
looking for any more enemies.

There has been a troubled history between the PCT and Cybernetics
communities, and very little contact between PCT and ST. This situation is
to none of their advantages. Of course ST and Cybernetics have many
problems, and some of Rick's points have basis in truth. From what I
understand (I wasn't around) the cybernetics/PCT break was helped along
considerably by the Cyberneticians. And it's easy to slam the vapid cliches
common in the ST community (the whole is more than the sum of the parts,
everything is connected to everything else, yeah, yeah, yeah) and their
general level of scientific discourse, which is far below the levels of
quality that should be tolerated (and many of us ST people recognize this).

But what we need is MORE cross-contact and fertilization, a coming together
and synthesis, a careful selection of our best work, and not these kind of
(apparently) ignorant broad attacks. What are you saying, Rick: ST is
WRONG? It has NOTHING of value to say? It has not informed PCT AT ALL? Be
specific, man, and get real!

I suddently realized from whence came all these "hot" movements
in psychology: dynamic systems, non-linear systems, artificial life,
chaotic attractors, etc etc. They all come out of the SYSTEMS THEORY

I'm shocked! You mean to tell me that my years of railing AGAINST the
purveyors of the new "complexity-based" sciences for IGNORING ST have been
COMPLETELY misguided?

Systems
theory will lure you in with its marshmallow-brained prose,
impress you with a few physics phacts, seduce you with its concern
for people and the environment and, finally, turn you to stone with its
sheer vapidity.

Ad hominem. I don't defend all the bad STists out there. I suspect the
signal to noise ratio in ST is lower than, say, chemistry (but maybe not
lower than psychology?). But for every quote you offer to support your
view, I'll match it with a quote that is thoughtful, cogent, well-reasoned,
and consistent with (if not based from) empirical observations.

The bad news for PCT is that apparently some people
are mistaking PCT for systems theory or vice versa.

And exactly who would that be? Come on, Rick, let's get above these kinds
of cheap shots.

If symptoms persist,
join CSG-L and be sure to introduce yourself as follows: "Hi. My
name is ____ and I'm a systems theorist".

Hi. My name is Cliff Joslyn, and I'm a systems theorist. I am also a
Cybernetician, and I am TRYING to be a Powers' Control Theorist (PCTist).

Rick: I'm determined to help you crawl out of the mud and enter a REAL
debate. Accept my challenge: my next posting is a definition of ST by
Francis Heylighen and myself for the upcoming Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy. Does it reflect your understanding of ST? If not, why not? If
so, how is it inconsistent or in conflict with PCT?

I also have a draft of a paper "Semantic Control Systems", which Bill has
seen, which draws the threads of ST, Cybernetics, Semiotics, and PCT
together. If you would like I can make it publicly available.

[Irrelevant side note:I was reminded recently of the fact that, in
an old TV show -- forgot which one -- the good guys worked for CONTROL
against the bad guys who worked for CHAOS; sounds like CSG-L to me].

That's Get Smart.

O----------------------------------------------------------------------------->

Cliff Joslyn, Cybernetician at Large, 327 Spring St #2 Portland ME 04102 USA
Systems Science, SUNY Binghamton NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
cjoslyn@bingsuns.cc.binghamton.edu joslyn@kong.gsfc.nasa.gov

V All the world is biscuit shaped. . .

[From Rick Marken (940219.1330)]

Bill Powers (940219.0845 MST) --

Term like "self-aware", "self-controlling," and "self-tuning"
create a titillating picture of some sort of bootstrap process.
But when it comes down to modeling such systems, there is no
bootstrap process. It always comes down to one system acting on a
different system.

Yes indeedy.

You might add "self organizing" to the list as well; this is surely
the king of the "self" prefixed pseudo-science terms of the "systems
theory" gurus -- the one's who are after the real "deep understanding"
of life. I know this now because I have seen the enemy (of PCT) and
it is NOT S-R behaviorism. It is "systems theory".

Last night, on the recommendation of the teacher of our extension
class on "Mythology in literature", we rented a movie called "Mindwalk".
He didn't say much about it except that it's a good example of a
modern approach to developing a mythology.

It was a revelation! I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know
exactly what pseudo science is and what PCT is NOT. As a movie, it's
a piece of dreck but as a tutorial on "new age" science (names like
Priggione, Bateson and Maturana are mentioned) it's definitely worth
seeing. It has a great 3 person cast (led by Liv Ullman), a great
location (Mt. Saint Michel) and a horrible screenplay. It is based
on "The Turning Point" by Frijof Capra (sp?) who also contributed to
the screenplay. It's sort of a "My dinner with Andre" for physics mystics.

Liv Ullman plays a retired physicist who spends her time meditating at
Mt. Saint Michel about the non-mechanistic implications of modern physics.
She runs into these two guys, one an unsuccesssful presidential
candidate and the other his campaign manager, and they discuss the
importance of Ullman's new world view -- which she calls "systems theory".

Systems theory goes beyond the crass clockwork "mechanism" of Newton's
physics. The motivation for Liv's abandomment of classical physics
seems to be little more than the fact that atoms are mainly
made of NOTHING while things obviously feel like SOMETHING (why this
presents a bigger problem than the fact that the world doesn't look
light light particles -- as Newton surmised long ago-- is beyond me).
Liv solves the "NOTHING IN ATOMS" problem with "systems theory":the
solidity of experience comes out of INTERDEPENDENCE, WHOLISM,
SELF-ORGANIZATION and other SYSTEMS stuff like that. There seem to be
two central tenets of system theory: one is the idea that the world is no
longer a clockwork mechanism but a SELF ORGANIZING system: the second is
INTERDEPENDENCE of all things on all other things (I could see why GAIA
and Chaos fans would be welcomed into the temple of systems theory) .
[Irrelevant side note:I was reminded recently of the fact that, in
an old TV show -- forgot which one -- the good guys worked for CONTROL
against the bad guys who worked for CHAOS; sounds like CSG-L to me].

I had a bit of an epiphany as I watched this movie (which came out
in 1991). I suddently realized from whence came all these "hot" movements
in psychology: dynamic systems, non-linear systems, artificial life,
chaotic attractors, etc etc. They all come out of the SYSTEMS THEORY
silliness that these poor actors had to discuss in the movie. Some
people must take this stuff seriously -- seriuosly enough to put up the
money to make a movie (even this low budget puppy must have come in
over $1,000,000 -- if only for the film -- although it doesn't look like
they wasted film on a lot of "takes"; the actors probably did it for free;
they looked like they might be "believers").

While watching the movie I also realized that systems theory is a
drug far more indisidious than S-R or cognitive psychology. Systems
theory will lure you in with its marshmallow-brained prose,
impress you with a few physics phacts, seduce you with its concern
for people and the environment and, finally, turn you to stone with its
sheer vapidity. The bad news for PCT is that apparently some people
are mistaking PCT for systems theory or vice versa. It made me think
that maybe we should put a warning label at the top of the intro
to CSG list. The warning label could look like this:

Warning: The control systems group has determined that frequent use
of the word "self-organizing" as a description of a real phenomenon
can be hazardous to your mental health. If the word "self organizing"
makes any sense to you, discontinue use immediately. If symptoms persist,
join CSG-L and be sure to introduce yourself as follows: "Hi. My
name is ____ and I'm a systems theorist".

Best

Rick