“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 snapshots…Today systems thinking is needed more than ever because we are becoming overwhelmed by complexity.” – Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
This course is an overview of the foundational concepts within system theory, in particular, it is focused on conveying what we call the systems paradigm that is the basic overarching principles that are common to all areas of systems thinking and theory. During the course we will be focused on systems thinking as a way of seeing the whole and the parts, seeing nonlinear causes instead of simple linear cause and effect, seeing dynamic patterns instead of flash shots of events.
Systems thinking has been defined as an approach that attempts to balance holistic and analytical reasoning. In systems theory, it is argued that the only way to fully understand something is to understand the parts in relation to the whole. Systems thinking concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the elements that compose the entire system. By taking the overall system as well as its parts into account this paradigm offers us fresh insight that is not accessible through the more traditional reductionist approach.
This course explores the foundations of systems theory, the process of reasoning call synthesis and its counterpart analysis. The central theme throughout the course will be on understanding these two basic processes of reasoning and how they relate to each other, thus enabling the student to become more effective in their reasoning and modeling.
In the first section of the course we start off by taking an overview to the systems paradigm, we will talk about how systems thinking helps us to gain an awareness to our processes of reasoning, their assumptions, strengths, and limitations. We will try to understand what paradigms in general are, before going on to talk about theories and the development of formal models.
Holism & Reductionism
In the second section, we explore the two basic approaches of holism and reductionism and their counterparts synthesis and analysis, which are the two processes of reasoning that form the foundations of systems thinking. In this section, we give a clear distinction between the two different approaches, how they interrelate and the consequences of using each approach.
The third section covers the theme of nonlinear causality, a reoccurring theme across all of the systems science. A major distinction between the analytical and synthetic approach is that between linear and nonlinear causality. In this section, we explore each and how they give very different conceptions to our understanding of cause and effect.
In the next section, we explore the relational paradigm, a way of looking at the world in terms of the connections between things, the networked patterns they form and how these shape and define the overall system. We go on to talk about the importance of interdependence and integration within systems thinking.
The final section of the course is dedicated to process thinking. Systems theory sees the world in terms of constant change and macro-level processes that shape events through what are called systems archetypes. Likewise, we will talk about the key structural process of differentiation and integration that drives evolution and change within all forms of systems.
This course is designed for anyone with an interest in systems thinking and theory and should be accessible to all. By the end of the course students will have gained a new way of looking at the world, what we call the systems paradigm, that can offer fresh insight and a new approach to looking at virtually any domain of interest.