A system is a whole which is made of interconnected parts and perceived by an observer:
Important aspects of a system are:
- A system is a complex whole (a), which is made out of parts (b) (components) which are interconnected (c). The way a the components are interconnected make up its structure.
- The system is divided by a boundary (d) from its environment (e).
- Systems have a purpose. According to Stafford Beer „The goal of a system is what it does.“ Usually systems transform some sort of input (f) into a special output (g). In- and output can be forms of matter, energy and/or information.
- The transformation process is run by the interactions of the components, which develop certain forms of feedback.
- System often appear within recursive hierarchies. Every component can be seen as a system of its own, which is made of components. On the other hand every system of focus usually is a component of a larger system. Zooming in and out of system levels is helpful to gather wholistic understanding of a situation.
- Every system has an observer (g), which e.g. determines the system in focus and its scope, goals and structure.
While points 1-5 refer to a first order cybernetics, point 6 adds second order cybernetics. Second order cybernetics focuses not on the external observerd system, but on the observer itself. The observer can be thought of as an biological system (human), which is able to produce mental models of the world it is living in.