Living Systems

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OVN Wiki:

"Inspired from Wikipedia "Living Systems"

Living systems are open self-organizing living things that interact with their environment. These systems are maintained by flows of information, energy and matter.

Some scientists have proposed in the last few decades that a general living systems theory is required to explain the nature of life. Such general theory, arising out of the ecological and biological sciences, attempts to map general principles for how all living systems work. Instead of examining phenomena by attempting to break things down into component parts (which is the traditional scientific method of analysis), a general living systems theory explores phenomena in terms of dynamic patterns of the relationships of organisms with their environment. It is a synthesis process, moving from portions of the system upwards. It is also a holistic approach.

Living systems theory is a general theory about the existence of all living systems, their structure, interaction, behavior and development. James Grier Miller, wanted to formalize the concept of life. According to Miller's original conception as spelled out in his magnum opus Living Systems, a "living system" must contain each of twenty "critical subsystems", which are defined by their functions and visible in numerous systems, from simple cells to organisms, countries, and societies. In Living Systems Miller provides a detailed look at a number of systems in order of increasing size, and identifies his subsystems in each. Miller considers living systems as a subset of all systems. Below the level of living systems, he defines space and time, matter and energy, information and entropy, levels of organization, and physical and conceptual factors, and above living systems ecological, planetary and solar systems, galaxies, etc.

Living systems according to Parent (1996) are by definition "open self-organizing systems that have the special characteristics of life and interact with their environment. This takes place by means of information and material-energy exchanges. Living systems can be as simple as a single cell or as complex as a supranational organization such as the European Union. Regardless of their complexity, they each depend upon the same essential twenty subsystems (or processes) in order to survive and to continue the propagation of their species or types beyond a single generation".

Miller said that systems exist at eight "nested" hierarchical levels: cell, organ, organism, group, organization, community, society, and supranational system. At each level, a system invariably comprises twenty critical subsystems, which process matter–energy or information except for the first two, which process both matter–energy and information: reproducer and boundary.

The processors of matter–energy are: ingestor, distributor, converter, producer, storage, extruder, motor, supporter

The processors of information are: input transducer, internal transducer, channel and net, timer (added later), decoder, associator, memory, decider, encoder, output transducer.

Twenty critical subsystems that process inputs, throughputs, and outputs of various forms of matter–energy and information.

Miller says the concepts of space, time, matter, energy, and information are essential to his theory because the living systems exist in space and are made of matter and energy organized by information. Miller's theory of living systems employs two sorts of spaces: physical or geographical space, and conceptual or abstracted spaces. Time is the fundamental "fourth dimension" of the physical space–time continuum/spiral. Matter is anything that has mass and occupies physical space. Mass and energy are equivalent as one can be converted into the other. Information refers to the degrees of freedom that exist in a given situation to choose among signals, symbols, messages, or patterns to be transmitted.

Other relevant concepts are system, structure, process, type, level, echelon, suprasystem, subsystem, transmissions, and steady state. A system can be conceptual, concrete or abstracted. The structure of a system is the arrangement of the subsystems and their components in three-dimensional space at any point of time. Process, which can be reversible or irreversible, refers to change over time of matter–energy or information in a system. Type defines living systems with similar characteristics. Level is the position in a hierarchy of systems. Many complex living systems, at various levels, are organized into two or more echelons. The suprasystem of any living system is the next higher system in which it is a subsystem or component. The totality of all the structures in a system which carry out a particular process is a subsystem. Transmissions are inputs and outputs in concrete systems. Because living systems are open systems, with continually altering fluxes of matter–energy and information, many of their equilibria are dynamic—situations identified as steady states or flux equilibria."



Properties of living systems:

(1) A living system only accepts its own solutions (we only support those things we are a part of creating).

(2) A living system only pays attention to that which is meaningful to it (here and now).

(3) In nature a living system participates in the development of its neighbour (an isolated system is doomed).

(4) Nature and all of nature, including ourselves is in constant change (without ‘change management’).

(5) Nature seeks diversity – new relations open up to new possibilities (not survival of the fittest).

(6) ‘Tinkering’ opens up to what is possible here and now – nature is not intent on finding perfect solutions.

(7) A living system cannot be steered or controlled – they can only be teased, nudged, titillated.

(8) A system changes (identity) when its perception of itself changes.

(9) All the answers do not exist ‘out there’ – we must (sometimes) experiment to find out what works.

(10) Who we are together is always different and more than who we are alone (possibility of emergence).

(11) We (human beings) are capable of self-organising – given the right conditions.

(12) Self-organisation shifts to a higher order."


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