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An Engineer’s Musings
about Systems

Observers and Systems

The “reality” of systems

Hierarchy and Control

The illusion of control

The Three Dimensions

Mater, Energy and Information

Phenomenal Segregation

Non-intersecting domains

For more than thirty years Systems Engineering was my profession. I did everything an engineer can dream about: I have designed, integrated and field tested weapon and combat systems for the Navy; integrated and tested things such as large national air traffic control systems, managed organizational process improvements and appraisals, evaluated medical imaging devices for the treatment of brain tumours, designed and managed the development of airborne data collection and communication equipment.

During all that time the “know that” of Cybernetics and General Systems Theory helped me getting a better grasp of the “know how” for dealing with these (apparently) very diverse systems. Now, at the sunset of my career, Systems Inquiry is still my passion and preoccupation.

I started this pages:

  1. as an effort to organize and describe my experience and approach in dealing with systems;
  2. as a repository of data, thoughts an ideas from others, that helped me get to this point and;
  3. as a platform for discussion with like minded people interested in the same area of inquiry.

The system

  • Etymology: greek: sum (with) + histanai (cause to stand) – Cooperative/supportive set-up, stance or position, of multiple interconnected elements
  • Dictionary (Collins) meanings:
    • Way of working
    • Set of (working) devices (powered)
    • Set of parts to supply water, heat etc.
    • Network of things to enable travel or communication
    • Body parts that together perform a particular function
    • Set of rules for measuring or sorting things
  • Notice if you will that all definitions from above fall in just two categories:
    1. Structures, arrangements of elements or things (products)
    2. Rules, constraints, change procedures, algorithms, interactions (processes)
  • The systems engineering definition (Mil Std 499B) adds people to the mixture:

“An integrated composite of people, products, and processes that provide a capability to satisfy a stated need or objective.”

Few important points:

  • Structures (products) are not systems, i.e. “software system” or “system of systems”. System implies purpose (a system “for”, not a system “of”).
  • See later cybernetics and system theory: what the “system” is made of is not relevant. What is relevant is the functions and behaviour of the system.
  • We are only interested in dynamical (non-parameter driven) systems with the capability to change their state independently of the environment.