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S System Theory

System Theory

Chair: Karl-Heinz Simon

Contributions: Tobias Knoch, Gabriele Harrer-Puchner, Felix Tretter, Karl-Heinz Simon

Methodology of Human Ecology, understood as the study of social-ecological systems, requires the skill of thinking in connections: any single component of a system can only be understood appropriately by considering its boundaries, context, diversity and dynamics, as well as its internal and external conditions. Otherwise solutions might be incomplete and not adequate. This was worked out, for example, by the “Integration and Implementation Science” (G. Bammer). In analysis and management of social-ecological systems, transdisciplinarity by trying to integrate all important stakeholders at all stages of the process is a key feature. An integrative language is need, e.g. including tools for visualization (boxes and arrows; Systems Dynamics Methodology or Biocybernetic System Analysis ). The system under investigation must be characterized by related conditions and effects, and also by its feedbacks and feedforwards, and also by its contextual connections. Furthermore, transformation of the model structure into a formal language enable to build computer models which can be used for exploratory simulations of possible future scenarios.



System Theory - Organized Section Part 1


Presentation from Tobias Knoch: "A Systems-Evolutionary Human Ecology Educational Canon"


  Recently, we were able to develop a novel general unified theory of evolution, from which a consistent systems-evolutionary human ecology theory follows directly, while spanning the entire (!) evolutionary existence, i.e. from physics to culture and thus far beyond schemes of e.g. Elias or Luhmann. It is so powerful that the thermodynamic concepts of life by Gladyshev and Prigogine, as well as the Darwinian and Lamarckian concepts, are unified. Beyond, system irreversibility, time directionality, and thus the emergence of existence are clarified. The micro-/macro-levels of the human ecology rectangle and the entire autopoietic social system theory combined with a multi-scale bubble/sphere/foam architecture is unified in a fundamental structural and information combining organization. This allows for the first time the justification and development of new human ecology and thereof applied concepts and an educational canon - on a solid scientific basis. In practical terms to ultimately approach an educational human ecology canon, i.e.: i) R&D must work inter-/trans-disciplinarily in an open innovative network, ii) broad humanistic education (the baroquian Bildung ideal) must be achieved of all sciences, and iii) society as a whole must epitomize an overall integrative thinking and operation, i.e. living a human ecology autopoietic systems perspective. Consequently, all this leads to deep understanding of human ecology as well as the raison d'etre. 


Presentation from Karl-Heinz Simon: "Education in Systems Thinking in Human Ecology - Challenges and Responses"



Human Ecology in theory and practice is mainly based on interactions: interactions between anthropologic, social, and societal phenomena on the one side, and environmental or natural phenomena on the other. Often those interactions can only be understood in their consequences when their feedback structures and their dynamics are taken into account, as well as different types of actors involved. Systems approaches provide tools helping to get a better understanding confronted with that complexities. For example, simulation tools help to omit falling into the trap of “counterintuitive behaviour”, where well-meant interventions bring forth additional problems, hierarchical structuring helps to reduce complexity, and soft systems approaches or a critical systems theory allows for a adequate involvement of stakeholders and persons concerned with different interests. In higher education these tools should be, in our opinion, part of the curriculum.


Presentation from Gabriele Harrer-Puchner: "How can universities teach systems thinking in the context of human ecology?"



The current multi-crises as the war in Ukraine, energy supply, climate change, famines, pandemics, and more, are consequences of decisions made in single areas. In addition, these crises are interconnected and their  interdependencies amplify the effects to unintended consequences and major systemic problems. The high complexity and dynamics can not be solved with traditional, linear thinking and (university) education in separate disciplines. To develop solutions to these global, systemic challenges, systemic, transdisciplinary and holistic new concepts are essential. The authors demonstrate experiences from their training and scientific work in the implementation of systemic thinking in the context of university education. An interactive exercise will complete the session.


Presentation from Felix Tretter: Systems Thinking for Higher Education in Human Ecology


  Human Ecology without Systems Science is blind:! If a system consisting of three components is analyzed, already complex dynamics can take place that can only be understood by computer simulations. For this reason a training in steps of systems modeling and systems practice is required in education in human ecology. Systems thinking as a method is not only a trivial tool but must be related to the context of interdisciplinary systems science: transdisciplinary  problem definition, awareness of diversity, context and dynamics, collecting qualitative and quantitative data, transposing semantically isomorphic verbal, graphical, formal and numerical modeling, simulating scenario.

  System Theory - Organized Section Part 2- Discussion