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Wednesday, August 5 • 16:48 - 17:12
A Machian Functional Relations Perspective on Complexity and the Systems Approach

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The poster discusses two related questions: where to ‘cut’ system definitions and systemic relations based on the perspective of the involved stakeholders. Both are historically related to the genetic historical /-critical, monist approach of psychophysicist Ernst Mach.

Ernst Mach transferred the then current Darwinian evolutionary conception to the epistemological discussion of the historical development of procedures and theories with implications for their ‘epistemological’ value. Scientists’ statements on the nature of reality need to be based on observations, which require an analysis of the ‘psychological worldview’ in and from which observations are identified, measured, analyzed and interpreted. The worldview of scientists influences observations, interpretations of observed facts and identification of causality in models of reality. In turn, observations lead to adaptations of the thought structure (in terms of models and causality) of scientists as much as to a selection of observations that are deemed legitimate to support or refute a hypothesis. At some point, this process necessarily involves a ‘cut’ of relations considered and analyzed. This issue is reflected in the work of Herbert Simon on system decomposition and aggregation.


For the analysis of (causal) interactions in complex systems (Auyang 1998), Simon and Ando (Ando and Simon 1961, see also Shpak et al. 2004) have developed the concept of (near) decomposability, based on the notion that the interactions in structured systems can be separated into groups of interactions according to the strength of interactions between elements of a system. Groups of elements (variables) among which interactions are much stronger than among other elements, are separated into specific ‘modules’ separate from elements with less strong interactions. It is assumed that most of these inter-group interactions can be neglected and intra-group interactions aggregated into single variables.


The obvious danger in this assumption is that interactions between groups of variables can be neglected respectively that microstate variables can be aggregated into macro-state variables over a number of conditions and / or for longer time horizons. This assumption may be correct in the short run or under normal conditions, but may also be wrong under longer terms and more unusual conditions. Thus from a ‘complexity / non-linear mathematics perspective ‘small’ effects may lead under positive feedback to the crossing of thresholds and phase transitions and then may be observed as increased stress, risk and catastrophes in a system’s development (cp. Thom 1989, Jain and Krishna 2002, Sornette 2003).


In human systems these aggregations in the form of system definitions and system models involve approximations and hypotheses on system behavior in the mental world of actors. These assumptions underlying mental representations of systems are likely to be proven wrong earlier or later with the further development of a (dynamic) theoretical system.


In order to tackle the question of where to ‘cut’ system definition, decomposition and system aggregation, the paper proposes to employ physicist-psychologist-philosopher Ernst Mach’s genetic perspective on the evolution of knowledge based on his research in the history of science (Mach 1888, 1905, 1883). Mach suggests to replace causality with functional relations, which describe the relationship between the elements of the measured item and the standard of measurement (Mach 1905, Heidelberger 2010) as functional dependencies of one appearance on the other. Measurement, system delineation and aggregation is thus based on the tools and perspective or worldview of scientists. The poster sketches the links between Bertalanffy’s and Mach’s non-positivist approaches and Simon’s formal approach to derive requirements for ‘tools’ to converse about system definition, decomposition, and aggregation (modularization) interrelated with and dependent on scientists worldviews.



Presenter / Artist

Wednesday August 5, 2015 16:48 - 17:12
Copenhagen 2 Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

Attendees (4)