Properties of Open Systems

Systems theory began with the recognition that certain principles held good for material systems despite the similarity or difference of their component parts. Reading 3 by Koehler well represents the early attempts to state the manner in which system properties regulate the behaviour of the components and hence the behaviour of the system. Many of these statements, like Angyal's in Reading 1, seem intuitively valid and important but it took von Bertalanffy's rigorous distinction between open and closed systems to mobilize widespread scientific interest.

From von Bertalanffy's classical paper (Reading 4) there arose the movement of thought that has sustained the _General Systems Yearbook_ for more than a decade. * Kremyanskiy wisely, and in our view correctly, questions the grounds and the aspirations of general systems theorizing. Granted the importance of system properties it does not follow that maximum scientific pay-off comes from seeking to identify the most general system properties. To pursue this goal is to run the risk of masking the environmental characteristics and the nature of the component parts that enter into the adaptive success or failure of concrete systems or classes of concrete systems. * As a corrective to this editorial bias the reader is strongly advised to consult Miller (1965). This is the most exhaustive statement to date of the results that follow from a general systems approach. Even if we are right in our general appreciation of this approach there can be no doubt but that Miller has proven the value of general systems 'theory' in generating new hunches and hypotheses. [p. 57 editoral paragraphing added]

The efforts to formulate a scientifically adequate theory of living systems, both individual and group, came to fruition in Gerd Sommerhoff (1950).

We present here a later paper (Reading 6) which clears up some of the conceptual ambiguities brought out by the critical studies of the group of logicians centred around Ernest Nagel at the University of Columbia (Beckner, 1959). Nagel's own paper in which he demonstrates the central role of Sommerhoff' s theory for the social sciences is presented in Part Four as Reading 15.

If it seems a little strange to the reader that an adequate solution to the theoretical problems of the 'properties of open systems' existed almost before the problem was posed (and thence generally ignored as if it did not exist), then he might also consider the fact that the logical structure for Sommerhoff's solution had been publicly formulated several years before by the American philosopher, E. A. Singer (for an equally appreciative audience).

### References Beckner, M. (1959), _The Biological Way of Thought_, Columbia University Press. Miller, J. G. (1965), 'Living systems: cross level hypothesis', _Behavioral Science_, vol. 10, pp. 380-411. Singer, E. A. (1946), 'Mechanism, vitalism, naturalism', _Philosophy of Science_, vol. 13, pp.81-99. Sommerhoff, G. (1950), _Analytical Biology_, Oxford University Press. [on Worldcat](