The Environment of a System

Even among theorists purportedly dealing with open systems there has been a reluctance to come to grips with the problems of characterizing the environments within which systems must adapt to survive or duplicate themselves. * These theorists have sought to cope with the problem by simply adding some exchange equation to the equations defining the inner system (see von Bertalanffy, Reading 4, page 70). * This lands one with insuperable difficulties that seem to focus upon problems of defining the boundary conditions. * Just how slippery these problems are has been spelt out by A. Angyal (_Foundations for a Science of Personality_, Harvard University Press, 1941, pp. 88-99) and can be easily inferred from efforts made by others to solve them. [p. 203, editoral paragraphing added]

Sommerhoff 's analysis (Reading 8) was one that has shown that the boundary conditions or exchange processes are as much subject to the heteronomous processes in the environment as they are to processes within the system. * Thus, open systems analysis cannot hope to stop with a specification of an exchange equation; it can hope to approach adequacy only when there is some characterization of the environment. [p. 203, editoral paragraphing added]

The reluctance to tackle environmental analysis appears to have arisen from the forbidding nature of two problems -- * (a) the sheer complexity of most environments and * (b) the incommensurateness of the many heterogeneous processes that make up the system and its environment (e.g. psychological, economic, technical, meteorological). Sommerhoff had, as far back as 1950, provided a perfectly satisfactory answer to the second problem. The first problem should not have been taken so literally. * Not all aspects of an environment are equally relevant to any particular system or class of systems. * In economics, military theory, ecology, psychology, to name but a few, there has been a long and successful tradition of identifying and characterizing global aspects of environment and relating these to adaptation. The readings in this section show something of the progress towards a general solution. [p. 203-204, editoral paragraphing added]