A system can’t be explained by its parts alone.
The world we live in contains an uncountable number of things — both living and non-living — with complex connections on multiple levels between them. The study of interdependent parts of a bigger whole is systems theory. A system is usually more than just the sum of its parts as phenomena such as synergy and emergence give properties to a system that can’t be found when looking at its components.
Systems theory originally stems from biology but is now used in psychology, ecology, physics, human computer interaction, management, economics and engineering. As a field of research, it attempts to develop broadly applicable concepts that help understand and deal with many specific domains of knowledge. Central elements of systems such as feedback loops, stocks, flows, boundaries, throughput, or cyclical interactions are found in almost all areas of reality — from interpersonal relationships to the science of cities or the cultural impact of technology.
For instance, an individual can be seen as a part of a larger group of social connections which, in turn, is part of a society that acts on this group and is itself being formed by other interrelated parts (e.g. technological developments or economic changes).
More specific fields within systems theory that try to explain aspects of reality on a holistic level are chaos theory, complexity science, cybernetics, control theory, sociotechnical systems or ecological systems theory.
If we want to deeply understand how systems (of humans, relationships, environments, technologies) behave and develop, as well as sharpen our perspective on individual parts of all of the systems around us, systems theory is a critical component we should learn about.
A few further resources you might like if you find above idea interesting:
- 📚 Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems
- 📚 David Peter Stroh’s Systems Thinking For Social Change
- 📚 Albert Rutherford’s Learn To Think In Systems
- 📚 Ken Wilber’s A Brief History Of Everything
- 🖥 Wikipedia: Systems Theory
- 🎥 YouTube: a 5 min. animated introduction to Systems Thinking
- 🎥 YouTube: Systems Theory of Organizations
- 🎙 Podcast: The Knowledge Project
- 📝 Blog: The Systems Thinker
- 📝 MindVault: Higher Order Consequences
- 📝 MindVault: Emergence
- 📝 MindVault: Entropy
- 📝 MindVault: Chaos Theory