I have been using information technology all my working life; systems analysis (of the kind used in business) has become second nature to me. This is a short overview of systems analysis and thinking with some comments of my own along the way.
What are systems?
Systems are made of components; each component is capable of doing something that allows it to interact with other components – the component has inputs, does something, has outputs and is subject to feedback in the sense that is outputs may modify the future state of its inputs. A component can of course be thought of as a system as well – when these are high level they may be referred to as sub-systems. In any systems view we need to consider what are the sub-systems and how do they interact to make up the whole – these form networks and can be nested like Russian Dolls.
Talking about components is mechanical, we can see the physical and living world in systems terms. We can view the cell as a system and a component, within part of the organism, say the liver and on up to a whole person. We can look at pretty much anything through the lens of systems - plants and trees, the sea, the weather, earth itself.
Network and hierarchy
It has become fashionable lately to challenge hierarchy and talk about networks. My view is that both are true. The reason for this is because of nature in the main part of this site. The short version is that all groups have a leader - this may be just the person the group defers to or it may be formal, chairmanship, president. The view I elaborate in the main sections of this site it that we can flatten the hierarchies that we have substantially and change the paradigm of leadership to facilitation. However it is unlikely that we will get rid of them altogether.
Large and small systems
If we consider the world with a systems view a good starting point is the small area referred to as the “bio-sphere”. The bio-sphere is the area we inhabit – what goes on here potentially impacts everyone. It is sufficiently enclosed, and self-contained for us to treat it as the basis for the analysis in this essay (Note: Biosphere is a Sub-System). The Biosphere receives inputs e.g. sunlight, has outputs e.g. radiated heat, contains a huge number of number of sub-systems that change things internally e.g. the weather – more or less sunlight is experienced by us on the surface, and is subject to feedback – the amount of rain is determined (in part) by the amount of water in the atmosphere which is influenced by the rate of evaporation linked to the amount of sunlight at the surface (Note: Simplification)
An example of a complex system which is part of a wider system is the carbon cycle because carbon in the atmosphere influences the weather.
In the picture of the carbon cycle the black numbers indicate how much carbon is stored in various reservoirs, in billions of tons ("GtC" stands for GigaTons of Carbon and figures are circa 2004). The dark blue numbers indicate how much carbon moves between reservoirs each year. The sediments, as defined in this diagram, do not include the ~70 million GtC of carbonate rock and kerogen (Note: The Carbon Cycle).
At the other end of the scale we can look at an individual cell. The cell takes nutrients from the environment, transforms them in order to maintain itself and gets rid of waste (see Capra, Chapter 7)