Addressing the Whole Whole

Thomas R Marzolf


This paper argues the need to develop a comprehensive, coherent, system-oriented description of the universe, and that doing so over time is quite feasible with the right approach.

 Charles Francois has stated: "We are indeed still - and mostly unconsciously - subservient to the general Cartesian reductionist model, which, after destroying the relationships network for the sake of 'simplicity', does never reconstruct it as an organized whole." This implies that the most important mission of the systems movement is to reconstruct the organized whole. We are deterred from this mission because of its apparent difficulty.

It has long been recognized that "the whole" must be addressed to understand a system. But what exactly is the whole? The whole includes all of a system's parts. It also includes  the relationships and processes of interactions among the objects and with the environment. And it requires addressing all in concert. (Let's call this all of the whole.)

 Furthermore, since a system's environment consists of other systems, these other systems must be considered part of the whole. This line of thinking expands the scope of the whole and when taken to its logical conclusion encompasses the entire universe. Hence the whole must be interpreted to mean not just a single system but the universal system of systems  (the whole whole). While instances of the system pattern are interesting individually, the system pattern is most significant as a key element of the architecture of the universe.

Finally, the universe is evolving, not static. The deep hierarchies of systems existing today provide clear evidence of continuing system evolution since the Big Bang. Hence the universal process of system evolution (whole history) must also be included in the whole.

The whole means all of the interconnections within the broadest scope of space and time. It  means the universe viewed as a system of systems, including all of the whole, the whole whole, and system evolution over the whole history.

 How can a system so large and complex be addressed? The system pattern, being fundamental to the functioning, structure, and evolution of the universe, provides a basis for organizing a universal description. While we can never describe the universe completely, we can develop and persistently improve and extend a description of the web of interacting systems. To do so we must systematically integrate, unify, and generalize the relevant nuggets filtered out of the existing vast sea of available information. With modern tools and techniques the complexity of such an effort can be managed.

 The dominant approach for centuries has ignored systems in order to avoid complexity. The opposite trade-off is now required: we must embrace complexity so as to understand systems. By embracing and learning to effectively manage complexity, it is possible to describe the whole in the broadest sense and so to develop an unprecedented understanding of the universe as a system of systems. This paper aims to show that doing so is now viable.


systems, system types, ontology, taxonomy, modelling

Full Text: