Systems Science and the Human Condition
This is a proposal for a collection of books under the above title. The purpose of this collection is to demonstrate how humanity might tackle understanding our situation in the world as a prelude to taking appropriate actions to attain some degree of sustainability.
I am the lead author of a breakthrough book on the subject of Systems Science (Mobus & Kalton, Principles of Systems Science, Springer, 2014). This book integrates many different themes in systems science that have previously been drifting apart as subjects.
From the book jacket:
This pioneering text provides a comprehensive introduction to systems structure, function, and modelling as applied in all fields of science and engineering. Systems understanding is increasingly recognized as a key to a more holistic education and greater problem solving skills, and is also reflected in the trend toward interdisciplinary approaches to research on complex phenomena. The subject of systems science, as a basis for understanding the components and drivers of phenomena at all scales, should be viewed with the same importance as a traditional liberal arts education.
The book establishes a core of concepts and methods for organizing knowledge in a way that should make it possible to develop a holistic understanding of the world and the human condition. I have a number of projects in line to follow this book and explore many ways in which systems science might be used for this purpose. The immediate follow-on volume is tentatively titled, "The World as System", subtitled, "Toward Understanding the Complex Relations between Humanity and the Ecos." In this volume I outline the basics of systems science, providing pointers to details in the Springer textbook. I then provide a starting systems analysis using the principles to situate the Human Social System (HSS or humanity) within the Earth ecological system (the Ecos) and then identify the top level of subsystems in the HSS (see Figure from the book, http://faculty.washington.edu/gmobus/Books/HSS.png). The balance of the book investigates the relations between these subsystems (listed below) and discusses the principle dynamics and evolution of them. This book establishes a high level systems map of the HSS as a starting point for further analysis of each of the subsystems.
The objectives of the book are to introduce readers to the nature of systems science as a way to understand the world and what is happening to it, to show how doing rigorous systems analysis can obtain explanations of these phenomena, and to introduce the follow-on volumes, each of which will cover a different subsystem analysis. A major theme is that humanity has become a major force in shaping the future of the whole planet; we are the causes of phenomena that give rise to defining this era as the "Anthropocene." Many of the effects of these causes are of a threatening nature (e.g. climate change and declining biodiversity). Traditional sciences are providing us with insights into the facts of these phenomena but cannot, as practiced normally, provide the interrelations between them that give us the "big picture." My thesis is that only systems science can do that.
If one looks at the major institutions that are part of the human social system today, one cannot help but see that many, if not most, are suffering some form of dysfunction. And no one seems to know what to do about it! Subsequent to the book described above, I propose the following volumes, each dedicated to applying systems principles and analysis to the major subsystems in the HSS. The objectives of these books will be to analyze these subsystems (institutions like economics or education) from a systems perspective to show 1) what an "ideal" system would look like - one that is truly fulfilling its systems function, and 2) identify those points where the current system is not working as where potential "fixes" might be found.
To be clear, these books are not intended to provide all of the answers of what can be done to keep our global social system, civilization, from collapsing (a distinct possibility). What I want to do is demonstrate that there is another, better way to organize our existing knowledge based on the principles of systems science and to find missing knowledge using systems science methods more rigorously. My objective is to demonstrate a framework for tackling complex problems that is more integrated than the current standard science approach (silos of knowledge). The hope is that if more people are applying these methods they are more likely to find solutions to nearly imponderable problems and find a way to move society to a state of balance with the Ecos so that it can be sustained for the indefinite future.
The volumes are:
There are a few more major subsystems/institutions that could be handled in this same vein, however, I am not currently versed in these topics as would be needed. They are the healthcare systems and the whole range of aesthetics, humanities, and entertainment. The first is obviously a major function of the HSS but would require expertise I do not possess to adequately attempt. The latter is a significantly important aspect of human psychology and well being. But, again, I am poorly prepared to tackle these subjects. I have spent many years using systems thinking to analyze the previous topics, at least to the level where sub-major processes can be tackled. My main hope is that by providing some examples of systems analysis and its results to a number of major subsystems that others might take up the challenge for those not covered. Moreover, I hope to provide insights into how to proceed more deeply into each of the subsystems identified above. It is a huge undertaking that cannot be done by a single individual. But my intention is to show how it might be accomplished to inspire the next generation to tackle it.