A biologist looks at systems thinking.

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  • #28284
    Al Test
    Participant

    Someone just sent me this great quote from biologist Lewis Thomas:

    When you are confronted with any complex social system, such as an urban center or a hamster, with things about it that you’re dissatisfied with and anxious to fix, you cannot just step in and set about fixing with much hope of helping. This realization is one of the sore discouragements of our century… You cannot meddle with one part of a complex system from the outside without almost certain risk of setting off disastrous events you hadn’t counted on in other, remote parts. If you want to fix something, you are first obliged to understand…the whole system. …Intervening is a way of causing trouble.

    – The Medusa and the Snail.

    #28285
    Al Test
    Participant

    Just grabbed the book and found the quote there’s one elision in what was sent me that I filled in here –

    When you are confronted with any complex social system, such as an urban center or a hamster, with things about it that you’re dissatisfied with and anxious to fix, you cannot just step in and set about fixing with much hope of helping. This realization is one of the sore discouragements of our century. Jay Forrester has demonstrated it mathematically, with his computer models of cities in which he makes it clear that whatever you propose to do, based on common sense, will almost inevitably make matters worse rather than better. You cannot meddle with one part of a complex system from the outside without almost certain risk of setting off disastrous events you hadn’t counted on in other, remote parts. If you want to fix something, you are first obliged to understand…the whole system. …Intervening is a way of causing trouble.

    – The Medusa and the Snail.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 3 months ago by Al Test.
    #28287
    James Trott
    Keymaster

    Related to your quote as well as to the nonscalability of systems, is this excerpt from John Gall’s “Systemantics:”

    “Non-additivity theorem:

    “A large system, produced by expanding the dimensions of a smaller system, does not behave like the smaller system.”

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