Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)

In 2010, creativity researchers Amabile and Hennessey published an extensive review of the literature on creativity from 1998-2008. The conclusions of these researchers were that:

The conclusions of these researchers were that: a systems view of creativity is necessary to comprehensively describe how creativity occurs in practice (Hennessey and Amabile 2010: 571):

Amabile and Henessey

Figure 2: The increasingly large concentric circles in this simplified schematic represent the major levels at which creativity forces operate. Source: (Hennessey and Amabile 2010: 571)

And so, in my view, the single best (and, most important) book in the entire domain of of philosophy, is:

In the `Foreword’ by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy (the founder of General Systems Theory), von Bertalanffy states:

`Systems philosophy… is obviously concerned with the relations of man and world and the perennial problems of philosophy. If nature is a hierarchy of organized wholes, the image of man will be different from what is in a world of physical particles as the ultimate and only “true” reality governed by chance events. Rather, the world of symbols, values, social entities and cultures is something very “real”; and its embeddedness in  a cosmic order of hierarchies is apt to bridge the oppositions of C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” of science and the humanities, technology and history, natural and social sciences or in whatever way the antithesis is formulated.’

(Bertalanffy in Laszlo 1972, p. xx)

He also notes, regarding Laszlo (1972):

`Laszlo’s work is the first comprehensive treatise of “systems philosophy”.’

(Bertalanffy in Laszlo 1972, p. xxi)

Why this is all important, is, because:

(1) the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988-2014) is all explained by systems theory.

General model of creativity (in the Wiley Handbook of Creativity, ed: DK Simonton 2014)

General model of creativity (in the Wiley Handbook of Creativity, ed: DK Simonton 2014)

And, because –

(2) Evolution is also explained by: systems theory.

Biological Evolution as a system (Velikovsky 2014)

Biological Evolution as a system (Velikovsky 2014)

And, because –

(3) (Bio)-Cultural evolution is also explained by systems theory.

Cultural Evolution as a system (Velikovsky 2014)

Bio-Cultural Evolution as a system (Velikovsky 2014)

And all of that, partly explains how: creativity in screenwriting, movies works.

The Kaufman and Beghetto 4-C model of creativity (diagram by Velikovsky 2014)

The Kaufman and Beghetto 4-C model of creativity (diagram by Velikovsky 2014)

So – as the above quote from von Bertalanffy makes clear, the systems approach to examining creativity in movies is consilient (i.e., science meets the arts).

Here is Ervin Laslzo:

Ervin Laszlo

Ervin Laszlo (from World Peoples’ Blog)

Laszlo (1972) notes:

`The persistent theme of this study is the timeliness and the necessity of a return from analytic to synthetic philosophy.’

(Laszlo 1972, p. 3)

Everything is connected, as the universe is a system. And contains lots of systems within it.

One of which systems, is… You!

This Means YOU

This Means YOU… A bio-cultural organism is a system (of systems).

If we are to explain creativity in movies (i.e., why some movies are successful and others, not), we need to understand everything is connected, and, note the value of interdisciplinary and consilient knowledge.

70% of movies lose money

As Laszlo notes:

`The world is not a series of gardens suitable for cultivation by friendly but independent neighbouring gardeners. It is much more like a system or network in which the knowledge of one element presupposes familiarity with all others.’

(Laszlo 1972, p. 4)

This is why the `causal chain’ moves from Physics – through Biology – and all the way through to Culture:

Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014)

Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014)

This is not to say the rules of each system don’t change at each higher level of complexity. They of course do.

Consilience diagram 2014

So, just how complex is Systems Theory..?

In a way, systems are simple, they can be viewed as, most simply, a `black box’, with inputs and outputs, in an environment!

Systems Theory Sadowski 1999

However, Systems Theory also has many disciplines within (or, directly related to) it, as Laszlo (1972) notes:

`Von Bertalanffy lists, among the new disciplines which carry the nucleus of this new natural philosophy: general system theory; cybernetics; information, decision and game theories; and others.

I would now like to add to this list systems philosophy, as the field wherein the “new natural philosophy” of the “systems world view” is to find detailed and self-critical formulation, as the paradigm of general theory in contemporary thought.’

(Laszlo 1972, p. 13)

In Chapter 5 (pp. 55-118), Laszlo examines physical, biological and social systems, examining their systemic state properties, their cybernetics and holon-properties, and in turn analysing each system for: wholeness, order, cybernetics, adaptive self-stabilization, adaptive self-organization, and both intrasystemic and intersystemic hierarchy.

Physical systems include for example, atoms; Biological systems includes plants, and animals (including us humans) and Social systems include organizations – like, say, movie production companies.

Laszlo on learning

Laszlo also discusses learning in terms of cybernetics: (this is important for evolutionary epistemology)

`Varieties of learning – We distinguish (i) genetically programmed, and (ii) empirically acquired processes of self-stabilizing bio-cybernetics I.

The latter can be subsumed under the general concept of learning.

Traditionally, under `learning’. one understood the acquisition and recall of “facts”, attitudes and beliefs, together with the correlated ways of responding.

Today, the meaning of “learning” has been extended and placed in a holistic-organismic context. For example, Clausse… defines learning as a very general process which affects all aspects of the personality: knowledge, capacities, interests, attitudes, affective responses, social and ideational adjustments, techniques of thought and action.

The common element in all varieties of learning is that learning is obtained by a certain form of activity in which the organism pursues a conscious or unconscious goal and attempts to escape a situation or a problem. By that token the situation of the organism is modified.

Hence learning is “a modification of behaviour attained by the `solution’ of a problem posed for the individual by his environmental relations.” …

From the cybernetical viewpoint, learning is a modification of programs (or norms) incorporated in the system by means of signals informing the latter of the conditions of its environment. Such modification in “learning machines” permits the system to adapt to these conditions by the appropriate reprogramming of their codes.

Learning machines differ from ordinary non-learning machines by having what Wiener called a “flexible” (as contrasted with a “rigid”) personality: they “learn from experience” rather than keep making the same mistakes all over.’

(Laszlo 1972, p. 80 – bold emphasis mine)

The above (bold text) also correlates with Jon Gottschall’s definition of `story’ from The Storytelling Animal (2012):

`Story = Character + Problem + Attempted Extrication’

(Gottschall 2012: 52)

It may also be worth looking at this post, on why the Heros Journey `monomyth’ is a metaphor for all problem-solving. (Though not all stories, and not all successful stories are based on or include the monomyth.)

Perhaps most importantly – in Chapter 6, `Empirical Interpretations’, Laszlo (1972) demonstrates how evolution (and, natural selection itself) works via systems, and that the process that we call `biological evolution’ is effected via bio-cybernetics, or `organismic adaptive self-organization’.

In short, evolution by natural selection operates on systems, and `evolution by natural selection’ itself is effected via a systems process. (For details, see, in particular, pp. 88-97, and pp. 176-80, in Laszlo 1972).

One salient excerpt:

`Levels of Evolution – The levels of nature’s hierarchy can be but tentatively identified, due to the tremendous richness and complexity of empirical phenomena. Nevertheless, several schemes have been advanced in recent years: one was proposed by Gerard; another was given by Miller which we quote as follows:


Atoms are composed of particles; molecules, of atoms; crystals and organelles, of molecules. . . . Cells are composed of atoms, molecules and multimolecular organelles; organs are composed of cells aggregated into tissues; organisms, of organs; groups (e.g., herds, flocks, families, teams, tribes), of organisms; organizations, of groups (and sometimes single individual organisms); societies, of organizations, groups and individuals; and supranational systems, of societies and organizations.”


A third scheme, offered by Bunge, gives the following categories:


Elementary particles – atomic nuclei – atoms – molecules – bodies

Physical systems – chemical systems – organisms – ecosystems

Physical processes – chemical processes – biological processes – psychical processes – social processes (= human histories)

Material production – social life – intellectual culture

Physics – chemistry – biology – psychology – sociology – history


Bunge’s categories are convenient tools to define those indicated for systems philosophy.

First, we make a distinction between reality in toto (= the world), and that portion of aspect of reality which tends towards hierarchical order and pronounced structuration. In the latter, two types of hierarchical structures are to be distinguished: the macrohierarchy, encompassing astronomical units from the space-time field to the astronomical universe as a whole, and the microhierarchy (or microhierarchies) including organizations from atoms to planetary socio-ecosystems.

Second, the terrestrial microhierarchy is defined neither by the substance nor by the identity of its component systems, but by the organization. Of Bunge’s categories the second in the order list applies: Physical systems – chemical systems – organisms – ecosystems. The other categories either focus on the individual substance or characteristics of the unit systems, or on the fields investigating them (with the exception of the third listing, which focusses on processes rather than on systems – a conceptualization which runs the risk of losing sight of uniformities disclosed by systemic state and function invariances).

Third, in the microhierarchy, all systems are adaptive, ordered wholes, partially surrounded by other such systems in their environment. Consequently, such systems tend to form higher level suprasystems as a function of their mutual adaptations. For example, when in a solution atoms mutually `adapt’ through the sharing of their outer electrons, they form molecular or crystalline suprasystems. These systems, when mutually adapted, may form a multicellular organism, and organisms mutually adapted form ecologies and societies.

The key property is adaptive self-maintenance of differentiated parts in interdependent, coacting relationships.

Fourth, if a physical ground is sought for the existence of such systems, it must be sought, I submit, in the nature of space-time as a multi-dimensional field generating sets of constraints which produce relatively stable, non-probabilistic sets of energy-flows. Gravity, electromagnetism and perhaps as yet undetected force-fields, are required to produce sets of events with internal, non-equilibrium constraints, expressed already in the structure of hydrogen nuclei. Given such “partially-ordered chaos”, continued process will be in the direction of higher levels of order and complexity. Inputs (“disturbances”) in these embryonic systems will lead to the differentiation of some dynamic properties, the merging of others, and the selective evolution of dynamic systems fitted to their environment. Thus atomic nuclei may acquire a complement of filled shells in suitable environments, and these manifest irreducible properties (chemical valence) which, under suitable conditions, lead to the formation of multi-atomic associations (molecules). These in turn can evolve through continued environmental stimulation toward crystalline formations on the one hand, and polymeric associations on the other. The more stable among these evolve under constant environmental pressure and selective adaptation toward still more differentiated and integrated forms, adding weaker interactions to stronger ones, and building up the Chinese-box hierarchy of natural organizations. Thus at a certain point life appears, and later multi-organic affiliations in ecosystems and societies.

The process is determined as to overall level of organization, but not as to local form or rate of progress. Its key characteristic is an overall increase in the level of organization, which, on the one hand, entails the functional efficiency of the systems and the diversification of their properties, and, on the other, their inherent instability and decreasing numbers.

Thus stability is proportional to primitiveness in level of organization, whereas functional efficiency, exhibited through an increasing variety of self-stabilizing functions and manifest properties, is proportional to complexity.

For example, complex organisms, such as mammals, are more vulnerable than protozoa, but are able to cope with environmental changes which could be lethal to the latter; and social systems of the modern technocratic-bureaucratic variety are considerably less stable than primitive tribal societies, but they, too, are more efficient in coping with pernicious influences in their particular surroundings.

Great functional efficiency goes hand in hand with the diversification of phenomenal properties, and with the branching of the specialized sub-assemblies performing the requisite functions.

There are but 82 stable forms of atoms but some [30] million species of plants and animals. However, the quantitative abundance of atoms is considerably greater than the abundance of living organisms. Hence there is a pronounced tendency toward individuation, as greater variety is introduced into populations of smaller size.

Ultimately, a single highly diversified and qualitatively rich organization tends to emerge, lending systemic order and unity to all subsidiary levels of systems in the microhierarchy. On earth, this highest-level organization is the currently forming global sociocultural ecosystem.

An unknown number of microhierarchies may be superimposed on the levels of the cosmic macrohierarchy on suitable planetary surfaces, possibly yielding an immensely rich array of forms of dynamic self-maintaining and self-evolving systems, driving toward increasing individuation and functional autonomy, and paying for it by inherent structural instability. This giant process of organization could have started with no more than a partial ordering of randomness in some cosmic regions, as local complexities arose due to the combined action of known, and perhaps as yet unknown, forces, establishing non-random relations between packets of energies in structurally cohering forms.

Thereafter the action of physical constants on these systems could branch into the complex panorama before us and in us. Without mystery and special acts of creation, it could lead to the emergence of new forms of order and their correlated qualitatively fresh and irreducible properties. It could bring forth man, mind and culture.

It brought us to where we are, and takes us irrevocably along, toward new levels of differentiation and integration, if not in our physiological, then in our cultural, social and ecological structures.

The particular forms of future development are unpredictable: they are partially dependent on us. In that sense we are the masters of our destiny. But the general trend of the developmental pattern is foreseeable: it leads towards increasing levels of order and organization, as differentiated subsystems integrate into larger functional wholes, and system is superimposed upon system in an ongoing hierarchical process.

In this sense then, our future is determined, for we are part of nature, and subject to its general laws of development.’

(Laszlo 1972, pp. 177-80)


In short, Systems Theory (and even, Systems Philosophy) both explains and describes a lot about reality (and including: screenwriting, and movies.)

The Feature Film Domain as a System (derived from Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

The Feature Film Domain as a System (derived from Csikszentmihalyi 1998-2014)

To understand the systems model of creativity, and evolution, and evolutionary epistemology (how bio-culture evolves, such as in Science and the Arts) we first need to understand systems: What they are, How they work – and, Why.

It would appear that reality is just: systems within systems within systems.

Interestingly, `objective’ and `subjective’ are abstractions of this concept. Systems are wholes and parts. We can look at a whole system, or its parts (holon-partons). One system would be the DPFi system, and parts of it are the domain and the field. A part (a holon-parton) in the field would be: an individual. The `objective’ view would be the whole field of movies, a `subjective’ view would be one person’s view, within the field.

The `Creative Practice Theory' systems model of creativity -as an algorithm - over time (Velikovsky 2014)

The `Creative Practice Theory’ systems model of creativity -as an algorithm – over time (Velikovsky 2014)


So, in short – I highly recommend: Introduction To Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972).

Introduction to Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)

Introduction to Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)

Another excellent work is The Systems View Of Life (Capra & Luisi 2014). 

There is also a `primer’ on all the core concepts, at: Key Concepts in Systems Theory and Cybernetics.

Laszlo 1972 - The Case for Systems Philosophy - Fig 1

Laszlo 1972 – The Case for Systems Philosophy – Fig 1

So – with evolution (and creativity) it’s all about: systems within systems within systems.

As an aside, here’s a Table from von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory (1968), which is a table by Boulding (1956):

Boulding's (1956) Table of Hierarchies in Von Bertalanffy (1968 pp 28-9)

And here below are some more selected systems diagrams from Laszlo (1972)

This one shows how the earth’s ecosystems are self-maintaining systems.

Solar system on Earth as a system - Laszlo 1972

The one below shows some reasons from our anthropic bias.

Laszlo 1972 - Systems patterns and the microhierarchy

This one below shows how science paradigms and art styles evolve…

Laszlo 1972 - Evolution in science and arts

And this one below shows how systems interact. (It gets messy and complex.)

Laslzo 1972 Mutual systems relationships

And this one shows how systems work inside the body.

Laszlo 1972 - The Endocrine System

And that’s why everything is systems.

And why the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988-2014) makes sense. And explains how biocultural evolution works.

For how this applies to all culture, see also the chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

Creativity. It's not what you think!

Creativity. It’s not what you think!

– Comments always welcome.


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Bourdieu, P & Johnson, RE 1993, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature, Columbia University Press, New York.

Capra, F & Luisi, PL 2014, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Csikszentmihalyi (2014), in (ed) Simonton, DK 2014, The Wiley Handbook of Genius, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, West Sussex.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1996, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 1st edn, HarperCollins, New York.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1995, ‘Creativity Across the Life-Span: A Systems View’, Talent Development Vol. III, Gifted Psychology Press, pp. 9-18

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1993, The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium, 1st edn, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY.

Csikszentmihalyi, M 1988, ‘Society, Culture, and Person: A Systems View of Creativity’, in RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 325–39

Hennessey, BA & Amabile, T 2010, ‘Creativity’, Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 61, pp. 569–98.

Laszlo, E 1972, Introduction to Systems Philosophy: Toward a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought, Gordon and Breach, New York.

Laszlo, E 1972, ‘The Case For Systems Philosophy – from Systems Philosophy: A Symposium’, Metaphilosophy, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 123-41.

Sadowski, P 1999, Systems Theory as an Approach to the Study of Literature: Origins and Functions of Literature, E. Mellen Press, Lewiston, N.Y.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). `The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.‘ In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.


19 thoughts on “StoryAlity #70C – Systems Philosophy (Laszlo)

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