General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice – Skyttner (2005)

For anyone interested in Systems Theory, this book is an excellent introduction to the topic:

General Systems Theory : Problems, Perspectives, Practice 2nd Edition (Skyttner 2005)

General Systems Theory : Problems, Perspectives, Practice 2nd Edition (Skyttner 2005)

Skyttner, Lars. General Systems Theory : Problems, Perspectives, Practice (2nd Edition). River Edge, NJ, USA: World Scientific, 2005.

Here is the Table of Contents of the book:


Part 1: The Theories and Why 

1. The Emergence of Holistic Thinking

The scholastic paradigm

The Renaissance paradigm

The mechanistic world and determinism

The hegemony of determinism

The age of relativity and quantum mechanics

The systems age

Review questions and problems

2 Basic Ideas of General Systems Theory

GST and concepts defining systems properties

Cybernetics and concepts defining systems processes

General scientific and systemic concepts

Widely-known laws, principles, theorems hypotheses

Some generic facts of systems behaviour

Review questions and problems

3 A Selection of Systems Theories

Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems

Complexity Miller and the General Living Systems Theory

Beer and the Viable System Model

Lovelock and the Gaia Hypothesis

Teilhard de Chardin and the noosphere

Taylor and the Geopolitic Systems Model

Klir and the General Systems Problem Solver

Laszlo and the Natural Systems

Cook and the Quantal System

Checkland and the Systems Typology

Jordan and the Systems Taxonomy

Salk and the categories of nature

Powers and the Control Theory

Namilov and the organismic view of science

Bowen and Family Systems Theory

Jaques and the Stratified Systems Theory

Review questions and problems

4 Communication and Information Theory

Basic concepts of communication theory

Interrelations between time, place and channel

Shannon’s classical theory

Basic concepts of information theory Information, exformation and entropy

How to measure information

Entropy and redundancy

Channels, noise and coding

Review questions and problems

5 Some Theories of Brain and Mind

The need for consciousness

A hierarchy of memory

Brain models

A model perspective

Review questions and problems

6 Self-Organization and Evolution

Evolution as self-organization

Basic principles of self-organization

Some rules of the game

The city

Climate and weather

The economy

Review questions and problems

Part 2: The Applications and How

7 Artificial Intelligence and Life

The Turing test

Parallel processing and neural networks

Expert systems

Some other applications

Artificial life

Computer viruses

A gloomy future

Review questions and problems

8 Organizational Theory and Management Cybernetics

The origin of modern trading corporations

The development of organizational theory

The non-avoidable hierarchy

Organizational design

Multiple perspectives of management cybernetics

A systems approach in ten points

Review questions and problems

9 Decision-Making

Some concepts and distinctions of the area

Basic decision aids

Managerial problems and needs

Four generations of Computer support

C3I systems

Some psychological aspects of decision-making

The future of managerial decision support

Review questions and problems

10 Informatics

Electronic networks

Fibre optics, communication and navigation satellites, cellular radio Internet

Virtual reality

Cyberspace and cyberpunk

Review questions and problems

11 Some of the Systems Methodologies

Large-scale, soft and intertwined problems

Systems design

Breakthrough thinking

Systems analysis Systems engineering

GLS simulation

Method versus problem

Review questions and problems

12 The Future of Systems Theory

Science of today

The world we live in

The need for change

Systems thinking as alternate and criticized paradigm

Systems thinking and the academic environment

How to write the instruction manual

Review questions and problems


Name Index

Subject Index

A brief excerpt from the book:

`In a hierarchic structure, subsets of a whole are ranked regressively as smaller or less complex units until the lowest level is reached. The lowest level elements build subsystems that in turn structure the system, which itself is a part of a superior suprasystem. The ranking of these is relative rather than absolute. That is, the same object may be regarded as an element, a system or a component of the environment, depending on the chosen frame of reference. See Figure 2.3.’   (p. 66)


Multilevel systems hierarchy - Skyttner 2005 p 66

`Hierarchical thinking creates what has been called the paradox of hierarchy. It implies that a system can be described if regarded as an element of a larger system. Presenting a given system as an element of a larger system can only be done if this system is described as a system. A more elaborate hierarchical terminology used in this context is:


– macrosystem

– system

– subsystem

– module

– component

– unit

– part


At a given level of the hierarchy, a given system may be seen as being on the outside of systems below it, and as being on the inside of systems above it. A system thus has both endogenous and exogenous properties, existing within the system and determined outside of the system respectively. Again, as above, the status of a component in a system is not absolute: it may be regarded as a subsystem, a system or an element of the environment.

In order to carry out their functions in a suprasystem, subsystems must retain their identities and maintain a certain degree of autonomy. A process whereby the interaction increases in a certain part of the system often ends up in a new local structure. This is called centralization and small variations within this part can produce essential changes of the whole system. However, like a chain, a hierarchy is never stronger than its weakest point, the top. If the top disappears, nothing will work.

Another kind of hierarchic view is expressed in the holon (from wholeness) concept, coined by the Hungarian-born author, Arthur Koestler, in 1967. Wholes and parts do not have separate existences in living organisms or social organizations. These systems show both cohesion and differentiation. Their integrative and self-assertive tendencies exist side by side and are reflected in their co-operative behaviour. This ‘Janus’ effect (from the Roman two-faced god Janus) is a fundamental characteristic of subwholes in all kinds of hierarchies.      (Skyttner 2005, p. 67)

Holon - Skyttner 2005 - p 68


`The global structure of the holon hierarchy is nested. At least five levels are discernible in Figure 2.4.

Normally, the term wholeness applied to a system indicates the following: variation in any element affects all the others bringing about variation in the whole system. Likewise, variations of any element depend upon all other elements of the system. In a sense, there is a paradox of wholeness telling us that it is impossible to become conscious of a system as a wholeness without analyzing its parts (thereby losing the wholeness). The concepts of hierarchy and wholeness are especially relevant in living things where organisms at each higher level of complexity originate as a symbiosis of those from the previous levels. This is demonstrated in Figure 2.5 where different organisms are shown at each of the four levels.’ (Skyttner 2005, p. 68)

Organisms - Skyttner 2005 p 69

Systems can be interrelated in a non-hierarchical way when of a multilateral structure. This situation exists when certain occur simultaneously in many systems. See Figure 2.6.’ (Skyttner 2005, p. 68)

Multilateral structure system components - Skyttner 2005 p69

(Skyttner 2005, pp. 66-9)


If all this is of interest, I can highly recommend the whole book (i.e., Skyttner 2005), not just this part.

(As: the whole is more than the sum of the parts. See: General Systems Theory.)

Maybe see, also: StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014)

Holon-parton structure of the meme V2

And, if systems and evolution is of interest – maybe see also:

On Systems Theory and Evolution

StoryAlity #70 – Key Concepts in Systems Theory, Cybernetics & Evolution

StoryAlity #70B – The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)

StoryAlity #70C – Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)

StoryAlity #70DThe Evolving Self (Csikszentmihalyi 1993)

And this book chapter:

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

– 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/



Koestler, A. (1967). The Ghost In The Machine. London: Hutchinson.

Skyttner, L. (2005). General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice (2nd ed.). Hackensack, N.J.: World Scientific.

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.


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