Living systems

Living systems

Living systems are open self-organizing systems that have the special characteristics of life and interact with their environment. This takes place by means of information and material-energy exchanges. Living systems can be as simple as a single cell or as complex as a supranational organization such as the European Economic Community.


The term "Living systems" in popularized by James Grier Miller since the 1960s with his work on Living systems theory. Miller considers living systems as a subset of all systems.

Humberto Maturana regarded living systems are autonomous entities, even though they depend on a medium for their concrete existence and material interchange; all the phenomena related to them depend on the way their autonomy is realized. A perusal of present-day biochemical knowledge reveals that this autonomy is the result of their organization as systems in continuous self-production. 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.] In his characterization of the organization of living systems, nothing is stipulated about their structure, which can be any form that satisfies it. Also, nothing is said about the medium in which an autopoietic system may exist, or about its interactions or material interchanges with the medium, which can be any that satisfy the constraints imposed by the actual structure through which the autopoiesis is realized.


Maturana stated that the organizaton of living systems in terms of self-production can be characterized by the class of dynamic systems that are realized, as unities, as networks of productions (and disintegrations] of components that:

* recursively participate through their interactions in the realization of the network of productions (and disintegrations) of components that produce them; and
* by realizing its boundaries, constitute this network of productions (and disintegrations) of components as a unity in the space they specify and in which they exist

Francisco Varela and Matura called such systems autopoietic systems, and autopoietic organization their organization.

Living systems theory

Miller considers living systems as a subset of all systems. Below the level of living systems, he defines space and time, matter and energy, information and entropy, levels of organization, and physical and conceptual factors, and above living systems ecological, planetary and solar systems, galaxies, and so forth. [ 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. p.198] .

Regardless of their 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. [Elaine Parent, "The Living Systems Theory of James Grier Miller", Primer project ISSS, 1996.] .

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 20 critical subsystems, which process matter/ energy or information except for the first two, which process both matter/energy and information: reproducer & boundary.

The problem with existing literature on complex living systems is that it lacks a "unified" or general dynamic theory, owing to its supply-side approach. An attempt to provide a general theory of complex living systems based on a demand-side methodology has recently (2008) been published in "Complexity" by Graeme Snooks. [Graeme Donald Snooks, "A general theory of complex living systems: Exploring the demand side of dynamics", "Complexity", vol. 13, no.6, July/August 2008.]


* 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
* 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.


External links

* [ Joanna Macy pH.D.] on Living systems

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