Note Ludwig von Bertalanffy has been on of the most acute minds of the XX century. Here is a miscellanea of passages from his General System Theory. The first part of the text focuses on the function of the theory of systems and on the main features of closed and open systems. The second part presents a conception of the human being not as a robot or a moron aiming at reducing tensions by satisfying biological needs, but as an active personality system creating his own universe, who revels in accepting challenges, solving problems and expressing his artistic inclinations. It seems legitimate to ask for a theory, not of systems of a more or less special kind, but of universal principles applying to systems in general.

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By Gregory Mitchell Systems theory studies the structure and properties of systems in terms of relationships, from which new properties of wholes emerge. Systems theory, in its transdisciplinary role, brings together theoretical principles and concepts from ontology, philosophy of science, physics, biology and engineering.

Applications are found in numerous fields including geography, sociology, political science, organizational theory, management, psychotherapy and economics amongst others. The concept of system, though it seems to be intrinsic to human thinking, has been extensively employed and developed over the last few decades, due in a large measure to contributions made by Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy , a Viennese professor of biology. He worked to identify structural, behavioral and developmental features common to particular classes of living organisms.

One approach was to look over the empirical universe and pick out certain general phenomena which are found in many different disciplines, and to seek to build up general theoretical models relevant to these phenomena, e. Examples are generalizations on the levels of cells, simple organs, open self-maintaining organisms, small groups of organisms, society and the universe. The latter approach implies a hierarchical "systems of systems" view of the world.

He defined a general system as any theoretical system of interest to more than one discipline. This new vision of reality is based on awareness of the essential interrelatedness and inter-dependence of all phenomena - physical, biological, psychological, social and cultural.

It transcends orthodox disciplinary and conceptual boundaries. The systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration. Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or substances, the systems approach emphasizes the principles of organization.

Every organism, from the smallest bacterium through the range of plant, animals and human beings - plus the family, society and the planet as whole - is an integrated whole and thus a living system. Another important aspect of systems is their intrinsically dynamic nature. Their forms are not rigid structures but are flexible yet stable manifestations of underlying processes.

Systems thinking is process thinking; form becomes associated with process, interrelation with interaction, and opposites are unified through oscillation.

Our civilization is experiencing enormous difficulties due to lack of ethical, ethological and ecological criteria in the manifestation of human affairs, which are currently only concerned with the management of larger profits for a small minority of privileged humans.

Bertalanffy believed that the need for a general systems consciousness was a matter of life and death, not just for ourselves but also for all future generations on our planet. He advocated a new global morality, an ethos which does not center on individual values alone, but on the adaptation of Mankind, as a global system, to its new environment These wholes are not reducible to their parts, since the factor of life depends upon the interaction of the parts as a system: the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

The organism, moreover, is dynamic, not static, open not closed, and searches spontaneously and actively for stimulation, rather than waiting passively to respond. However, Bertalanffy was not content to limit his theory to biology. If the organism was an open system interacting with its environment, could biology as a discipline do anything less? He joked about psychologists who claimed that their discipline was at a crossroads. Psychology is always at a crossroads and the mind of Man a meeting point for symbolic systems.

From this conviction, General Systems Theory was founded: a discipline of disciplines, with especial emphases on psycho-biology and ecology. Mind Development is a system, and as such, it reflects the concept of system that has gained pivotal influence in psychology. Many of the psychologists that we have drawn from have referred to General Systems Theory, or some part of it. This trend in modern psychology has appeared as a reaction to the sterility of behaviorism. General Systems Theory represents an expanded paradigm for psychology, without which much of present-day psychology would be in a state of arrested development.

The applied science of Mind Development is cognitive psychology at the level of System; all the techniques given in diverse courses work together as a system to produce results that exceed and could not be predicted by considering the individual components alone.

The expanded contextual field provided by General Systems Theory has elevated cognitive psychology from the level of description to the level of prescription. The malaise of behavioristic psychology Over much of the last century American psychology was dominated by the concept of the reactive organism, or by the model of man as robot. Until quite recently, this conception was common to all major schools of American psychology, including behaviorism, learning and motivation theories, cybernetics, the concept of the brain as a computer, and so on.

His destiny is determined by genes, instincts, accidents, early conditionings and reinforcements, cultural and social forces. Love is a secondary drive based on hunger and oral sensations, or a reaction formation to an innate underlying hate.

In the majority of our models of personality, there are no provisions for creativity, and no fitting recognition of the power of ideals.

Systemic properties are destroyed when a system is dissected, either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements. Although we can discern individual parts in any system, the nature of the whole is always different from the mere sum of its parts. The tenets of robot psychology have been extensively criticized; the theory nevertheless has remained dominant for obvious reasons. By manipulating humans into homeostatically adjusted conformists, consumers and opportunists, the principles of academic psychology were identical with those of the commercialization of Man.

Modern society provided a large-scale experiment in manipulative psychology. If the principles of robot psychology are correct, conditions of tension and stress should lead to increase of mental disorder. Likewise, mental health should improve with better material standards and by avoiding the repression of infantile instincts through the use of permissive education in the context of a self-indulgent society. This behavioristic experiment led to results contrary to expectation. World War II - a period of extreme physiological tension and psychological stress - did not produce an increase in neurotic disorders, apart from direct shock effects such as combat neurosis.

This form of mental dysfunction originates not from repressed drives, unfulfilled survival needs or from imposed stress, but from an inner conflict: the meaninglessness of life caused by a suppression of self-actualization.

Theoretical and applied psychology were led into a malaise regarding basic principles. Repressive Desublimation Herbert Marcuse looked to the work of Freud in developing his theory of "Repressive Desublimation," to explain the way in which social manipulation can operate not only by direct policing of laws but also by manipulation of desire. Marcuse wrote 20 years later than Bertalanffy and his theory reinforces the need to be aware of the abuse of reductionist behavioral psychology in society.

In Freudian psychology, sublimation is a defense mechanism by which the individual satisfies a socially prohibited instinctive drive usually sexual or aggressive through the substitution of socially acceptable behavior. Our desires and aggressions are deflected from their instinctual expression toward some other form of expression or satisfaction that is more appropriate, positive or socially acceptable. The natural process of sublimation may however be manipulated in a repressive way for means of social control.

Marcuse specifically referred to the role of advertising and propaganda in manipulating societal consensus. When the Ego is in the driving seat, a person operates on the Reality Principle, which is the delay of immediate gratification in recognition of more appropriate actions toward higher needs.

But when the Id is in the driving seat, a person operates on the Pleasure Principle. The Id containing our basic instinctual drives wants immediate gratification. Repressive Desublimation works by putting the Id in the driving seat and reducing Ego defenses.

This is done in a subtle enough manner through enculturation from cradle to grave, and through clever marketing of products and information, such that the person does not question the repressive aspects of the society in which he lives. High prices, high taxes, invasion of privacy, etc are tolerated. One of the Roman Emperors said that if you wish to control the population give them bread and circuses. Desublimation is so powerful that even a small dose can succeed in capturing us. We will return repetitively to satisfy ourselves even in small ways.

As an example, something like Playboy magazine could be allowed to feed men a measure of unusual - that is, formerly tabooed - sexual satisfaction, but this would happen only by becoming a regular buying customer. Thus, people were actually being repressed anew to the specific advantage of manufacturers. Looking at our society, today, little has changed, I would say.

We have become progressively more narrow repressed in our satisfaction of even recreation! Being convinced that we can buy it in the form of ever-more-expensive mountain clothing or recreational vehicles. Meanwhile, most people who buy mountain clothing and four-wheel-drive vehicles never go to the mountains.

We have become implicitly convinced and victimized , believing that recreation is achieved in the purchase and ownership itself. This after all is what capitalism requires - a never ending will to consume products. A common tool used to produce Repressive Desublimation is to present a person with pseudo choices, for example she has the choice of several colors of nail varnish, but she is made blind to the one real choice, which is to decide not to use nail varnish.

This is a trick used by salesmen. A salesman will not say I will see you on Wednesday, he will give the client a pseudo choice and say: I can see you on Tuesday or Thursday.

The theory of advertising maintains, in effect, that the consumer is a nonrational, suggestible creature under the hypnotic influence of the advertising copywriter. The more a person absorbs information that agrees with what they already believe, contrary evidence holds less and less value. This is why a person can be persuaded, through years of advertising stimuli, into a hypnotic belief system that is contrary to the real world.

In a society ruled by Repressive Desublimation the Ego is weakened and the Superego - ideals and values that accord to parental and social standards - is taken over by the culture. The desublimation of true needs leads to disenchantment and demoralization, when the person realizes that possessions and conformity are not really fulfilling.

One of the long term effects of Repressive Desublimation is to produce various forms of neurosis, because the person in question cannot deal effectively with reality. Prolonged anxiety leads ultimately to depression, as the person becomes more and more frustrated and gives up hoping for positive outcomes.

Hypocognition The current work of George P. Lakoff , a professor of linguistics, provides further reinforcement of the hypotheses of Bertalanffy and Marcuse. We have a lack of ideas or metaphors to adequately describe and explain the world of complex ideas and circumstances, often leading to a state of Rose Tinted Spectacles in the person suffering with Hypocognition.

Politicians and corporations often use terms that we think we understand and which sound good but if asked to define them we would be grasping at straws. For example, hypocognition makes it hard for the public to believe there can be anything wrong with "globalism" or "free trade," which sound like positive concepts and we readily accept policies based on them.

It is easy for the media to portray those who protest against "free trade" as fringe lunatics. There are three major consequences of Repressive Desublimation: Neurosis Repressive Desublimation weakens Ego defenses including the ways we would naturally sublimate our basic desires into productive channels that serve ourselves. Instead the Id is desublimated in ways that repress our true desires, so the disposition to Neurosis is increased.

There is a switch to desublimated Primary Process thinking characteristic of unconscious mental activity in place of rational and inner-directed Secondary Process thinking. Hypocognition Operating on the Pleasure Principle seeking immediate gratification shortens the attention span, so less in-depth information is sought and books of a serious nature are ignored, hence Hypocognition.

Today, most of the public rely on the 30 second sound bite to get their information about the world, so their fund of information is shallow. Most people want things the easy way. Entrapment Because a particular socio-economic system offers many avenues of immediate gratification, and as a consequence of Hypocognition, most of the public are trapped within the system.

By giving them bread, circuses and pornography, and by keeping them ill informed, most of the public ignore, or are unaware of, many other dimensions of society that are both wicked and wrong.

The main function of behaviorism abused in this way is to maintain compliant workers and consumers; certainly not to enlighten them. Hypocognition is general.


Ludwig von Bertalanffy - General System Theory - 1950


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Ludwig von Bertalanffy




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