The Wisdom Page 


A Brief Introduction to the System Perspective
by Copthorne Macdonald

A powerful tool for understanding the world around us is the system perspective on reality. Complexity in the natural world emerges as a hierarchy of natural systems or holons which have the property of being a whole at their own systemic level and a part or component in a system at the next level up the hierarchy. Subatomic particles get together to form atoms. Atoms interrelate to form molecules. Molecules of a single type sometimes join each other to form crystals. And molecules of many different types sometimes join to form the living systems we call cells. Cells interconnect to create those complex systems called plants, fish, birds, and human beings. Living things of many types interact with each other to form ecosystems. Ecosystems communicate with each other and together form the biosphere. Human beings start communicating with each other and give birth to those systems we call societies, economies, and nations.

Ervin Laszlo's book The Systems View of the World is an especially accessible work on natural systems and the system hierarchy that is found in nature (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1996).

Ken Wilber's books A Brief History of Everything, and Sex, Ecology, Spirituality expand on Laszlo's basic schema. Wilber prefers the term holon rather than system, and Wilber goes more deeply into the interior, subjective aspect of systems than does Laszlo.