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Living systems

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Title: Living systems  
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Subject: Systems science, Talcott Parsons, Graeme Snooks, Systems biology, Systems theory
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Living systems

Living systems are open living things that interact with their environment. These systems are maintained by flows of information, energy and matter.

Some scientists have proposed in the last few decades that a general living systems theory is required to explain the nature of life.[1] Such a general theory, arising out of the

  • International Society for the Systems Sciences
  • The Living Systems Theory Of James Grier Miller
  • Symbols for drawing Living Systems Theory diagrams
  • James Grier Miller, Living Systems The Basic Concepts (1978)
  • Joanna Macy Ph.D. on Living systems

External links

  • Kenneth D. Bailey, (1994). Sociology and the new systems theory: Toward a theoretical synthesis. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  • Kenneth D. Bailey (2006). Living systems theory and social entropy theory. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 22, 291–300.
  • James Grier Miller, (1978). Living systems. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-87081-363-3
  • Miller, J.L., & Miller, J.G. (1992). Greater than the sum of its parts: Subsystems which process both matter-energy and information. Behavioral Science, 37, 1–38.
  • Humberto Maturana (1978), "Biology of language: The epistemology of reality," in Miller, George A., and Elizabeth Lenneberg (eds.), Psychology and Biology of Language and Thought: Essays in Honor of Eric Lenneberg. Academic Press: 27-63.
  • Jouko Seppänen, (1998). Systems ideology in human and social sciences. In G. Altmann & W.A. Koch (Eds.), Systems: New paradigms for the human sciences (pp. 180–302). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
  • James R. Simms (1999). Principles of Quantitative Living Systems Science. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. ISBN 0-306-45979-5

Further reading

  1. ^ Cleland and Chyba wrote a chapter in Planets and Life: "In the absence of such a theory, we are in a position analogous to that of a 16th-century investigator trying to define 'water' in the absence of molecular theory." [...] "Without access to living things having a different historical origin, it is difficult and perhaps ultimately impossible to formulate an adequately general theory of the nature of living systems".
  2. ^
  3. ^ Seppänen, 1998, p. 198
  4. ^ Elaine Parent, The Living Systems Theory of James Grier Miller, Primer project ISSS, 1996.
  5. ^ (Miller, 1978, p. 1025)
  6. ^ Seppänen 1998, pp. 197–198.
  7. ^ (Miller, 1978, p. 1025)
  8. ^ Miller 1978, p. 747.
  9. ^ Miller 1978, p. 903
  10. ^ Miller, 1978, p. 1043.
  11. ^ Kenneth D. Bailey, (2006)
  12. ^ Kenneth D. Bailey 2006, pp.292–296.
  13. ^ Kenneth D. bailey, 1994, pp. 209–210.


See also

It omits the analysis of subjective phenomena, and it overemphasizes concrete Q-analysis (correlation of objects) to the virtual exclusion of R-analysis (correlation of variables). By asserting that societies (ranging from totipotential communities to nation-states and non-supranational systems) have greater control over their subsystem components than supranational systems have, it dodges the issue of transnational power over the contemporary social systems. Miller's supranational system bears no resemblance to the modern world-system that Immanuel Wallerstein (1974) described, although both of them were looking at the same living (dissipative) structure.


LST's analysis of the twenty interacting subsystems, negentropy with information and order. It emphasizes both structure and process, as well as their interrelations.[13]

Bailey says that LST, perhaps the "most integrative" social systems theory, has made many more contributions that may be easily overlooked, such as: providing a detailed analysis of types of systems; making a distinction between concrete and abstracted systems; discussion of physical space and time; placing emphasis on information processing; providing an analysis of entropy; recognition of totipotential systems, and partipotential systems; providing an innovative approach to the structure–process issue; and introducing the concept of joint subsystem—a subsystem that belongs to two systems simultaneously; of dispersal—lateral, outward, upward, and downward; of inclusion—inclusion of something from the environment that is not part of the system; of artifact—an animal-made or human-made inclusion; of adjustment process, which combats stress in a system; and of critical subsystems, which carry out processes that all living systems need to survive.[12]

  • The specification of the twenty critical subsystems in any living system.
  • The specification of the eight hierarchical levels of living systems.
  • The emphasis on cross-level analysis and the production of numerous cross-level hypotheses.
  • Cross-subsystem research (e.g., formulation and testing of hypotheses in two or more subsystems at a time).
  • Cross-level, cross-subsystem research.

Not just those specialized in international communication, but all communication science scholars could pay particular attention to the major contributions of living systems theory (LST) to social systems approaches that Bailey[11] has pointed out:

Strengths of Miller's theory

At the supranational system level, Miller's emphasis is on international organizations, associations, and groups comprising representatives of societies (nation–states). Miller identifies the subsystems at this level to suit this emphasis. Thus, for example, the reproducer is "any multipurpose supranational system which creates a single purpose supranational organization" (p. 914); and the boundary is the "supranational forces, usually located on or near supranational borders, which defend, guard, or police them" (p. 914).

...tend to consist of few components besides the decoder. These systems do little matter-energy processing. The power of component societies [nations] today is almost always greater than the power of supranational deciders. Traditionally, theory at this level has been based upon intuition and study of history rather than data collection. Some quantitative research is now being done, and construction of global-system models and simulations is currently burgeoning.[10]

A supranational system, in Miller's view, "is composed of two or more societies, some or all of whose processes are under the control of a decider that is superordinate to their highest echelons".[9] However, he contends that no supranational system with all its twenty subsystems under control of its decider exists today. The absence of a supranational decider precludes the existence of a concrete supranational system. Miller says that studying a supranational system is problematical because its subsystems

Miller identifies the comparable matter–energy and information processing critical subsystems. Elaborating on the eight hierarchical levels, he defines society, which constitutes the seventh hierarchy, as "a large, living, concrete system with [community] and lower am levels of living systems as subsystems and components".[8] Society may include small, primitive, totipotential communities; ancient city–states, and kingdoms; as well as modern nation–states and empires that are not supranational systems. Miller provides general descriptions of each of the subsystems that fit all eight levels.

Other relevant concepts are system, structure, process, type, level, echelon, suprasystem, subsystem, transmissions, and steady state. A system can be conceptual, concrete or abstracted. The structure of a system is the arrangement of the subsystems and their components in three-dimensional space at any point of time. Process, which can be reversible or irreversible, refers to change over time of matter–energy or information in a system. Type defines living systems with similar characteristics. Level is the position in a hierarchy of systems. Many complex living systems, at various levels, are organized into two or more echelons. The suprasystem of any living system is the next higher system in which it is a subsystem or component. The totality of all the structures in a system which carry out a particular process is a subsystem. Transmissions are inputs and outputs in concrete systems. Because living systems are open systems, with continually altering fluxes of matter–energy and information, many of their equilibria are dynamic—situations identified as steady states or flux equilibria.

Miller says the concepts of space, time, matter, energy, and information are essential to his theory because the living systems exist in space and are made of matter and energy organized by information. Miller's theory of living systems employs two sorts of spaces: physical or geographical space, and conceptual or abstracted spaces. Time is the fundamental "fourth dimension" of the physical space–time continuum/spiral. Matter is anything that has mass and occupies physical space. Mass and energy are equivalent as one can be converted into the other. Information refers to the degrees of freedom that exist in a given situation to choose among signals, symbols, messages, or patterns to be transmitted.

Miller's theory posits that the mutual interrelationship of the components of a system extends across the hierarchical levels. Examples: Cells and organs of a living system thrive on the food the organism obtains from its suprasystem; the member countries of a supranational system reap the benefits accrued from the communal activities to which each one contributes. Miller says that his eclectic theory "ties together past discoveries from many disciplines and provides an outline into which new findings can be fitted".[7]

Topics in living systems theory

Seppänen (1998) says that Miller applied general systems theory on a broad scale to describe all aspects of living systems.[6]

All nature is a continuum. The endless complexity of life is organized into patterns which repeat themselves—theme and variations—at each level of system. These similarities and differences are proper concerns for science. From the ceaseless streaming of protoplasm to the many-vectored activities of supranational systems, there are continuous flows through living systems as they maintain their highly organized steady states.[5]

His central thesis is that the systems in existence at all eight levels are open systems composed of twenty critical subsystems that process inputs, throughputs, and outputs of various forms of matter–energy and information. Two of these subsystems—reproducer and boundary—process both matter–energy and information. Eight of them process only matter–energy. The other ten process information only.

James Grier Miller in 1978 wrote a 1,102-page volume to present his living systems theory. He constructed a subsystems or components. Slightly revising the original model a dozen years later, he distinguished eight "nested" hierarchical levels in such complex structures. Each level is "nested" in the sense that each higher level contains the next lower level in a nested fashion.

Miller's living systems theory

  • input transducer, internal transducer, channel and net, timer (added later), decoder, associator, memory, decider, encoder, output transducer.

The processors of information are

  • ingestor, distributor, converter, producer, storage, extruder, motor, supporter

The processors of matter–energy are:

Miller said that systems exist at eight "nested" hierarchical levels: cell, organ, organism, group, organization, community, society, and supranational system. At each level, a system invariably comprises twenty critical subsystems, which process matter–energy or information except for the first two, which process both matter–energy and information: reproducer and boundary.

Living systems according to Parent (1996) are by definition "open self-organizing complexity, they each depend upon the same essential twenty subsystems (or processes) in order to survive and to continue the propagation of their species or types beyond a single generation".[4]

[3] Living systems theory is a



  • Theory 1
  • Miller's living systems theory 2
    • Topics in living systems theory 2.1
    • Strengths of Miller's theory 2.2
    • Limitations 2.3
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


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