Systems Theory and Emergent Order

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind: A Revolutionary Approach to Man’s Understanding of Himself, New York: Ballentine Books, 1972. 505 pp.

Trained as an anthropologist, Bateson’s book spills into many different fields. While using terminology wedded to the cybernetic model of homeostasis rather than emergent order, his arguments go beyond those concepts, and are highly relevant to this bibliography. Bateson writes penetratingly about the complex interaction of different levels of systems, particularly the human mind, society, and nature. He provides a description of the problems of subjecting such systems to instrumental control of which the famous critique of central planning becomes a single, albeit important, example. Also important here is his discussion of the relationship of ethics to systems theory. See particularly pp. 426-505.

Bateson, Gregory. Form, Substance, and Difference, General Semanstics: The Journal of the Institute of Genral Semantics, 1971. Also published in Io/14, Earth geography Booklet No. 3, Imago Mundi, 1972, and Richard Grossinger, ed., Ecology and Consciousness, Richmond, CA: North Atlantic books, 1978.

Bateson’s Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture of January 9, 1970, this essay offers a brief introduction to the major themes of his often difficult work. His description of the basic unit of natural selection as the organism-in-environment, circularity of cause and effect, difference as information, mind and evolution, and its implications for understanding human society are succinctly described here with great clarity.

Laszlo, Ervin. The Systems View of the World. New York: George Braziller, 1972. 120 pp.

One of the principle theorists of general systems theory, Laszlo offers an introductory outline of systems theory as it was conceived in 1972. Interesting for the purposes of this bibliography in the indistinct recognition of the importance of self-organization, or what Laszlo terms “self-creativity. He explicitly recognizes it in the natural world and in a general way in the social world, but conflates hierarchies among natural systems, which have nothing to do with deliberate control, with hierarchies in social systems, where the examples he uses are from business and government, and are organized as control hierarchies. Compare pp. 46-8 with pp. 72-4.

Macy, Joanna. Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. 220 pp.

Macy uses general systems theory and Buddhist philosophy to illuminate the concept of mutual causality. Briefly, causality is best conceived not linearly, but in terms of dynamic interdependence. In Buddhist terms this is called “dependent co-arising.” In covering systems theory, Macy relies on the work of von Bertalanffy and Laszlo and their concept of “cybernetics II” in developing her analysis of systems theory. “Cybernetics II” allows for internal change within the system via its reaction to feedback, and so is self-organizing and emergent, whereas the original concept of cybernetics did not. Chapters 10 and 11 are perhaps most central to the concerns of this bibliography.

Titles not yet annotated:

Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. Robots, Men and Minds: Psychology in the Modern World, New York: George Braziller, 1967.

Bunge, Mario.

Dyke, C. The Evolutionary Dynamics of Complex Systems: A Study in Biosocial Complexity, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. 151 pp.