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Second and third generation of the systemic approach

For many years, it has been believed in the systems approach that systems are somehow "objective" in terms of their purpose. For example, an airplane - everyone understands what kind of system it is and what its purpose/function is! Or a radar - there is no disagreement about why it is needed and what its environment is like! Even a laboratory mouse studied by biologists - its purpose/function does not need to be specially discussed, right?

The systems approach was presented as a method by which in this "objectively existing system", the most important aspect could be modeled - which also seemed obvious, it just needed a bit of clarification and numerical expression. Nothing subjective, just "pure science", perfectly formalizable. Textbooks on the systems approach in its first generation were easily recognizable by the abundance of mathematics in them. If a textbook on systems thinking/approach has a lot of formulas - this is a sure sign that the presentation of systems thinking in that text dates back before the 1970s. And the more biology and all sorts of "self-organization" it had, the earlier the book was written.

But in the late 1970s, systems thinkers noticed that engineering systems, rather than simple physical and biological systems, are always dealt with in terms of their creation and development by some creators-people. This was mainly due to the fact that the world has shifted from studying naturally growing (biological, "natural") systems to systems engineering - and the radars and airplanes there did not grow on their own in the forest or field, they had to be made by someone, by other creator systems. And these creator systems had to create these systems for something that someone else needed (customers), that is, also for people (there were no AI agents at that time, of course). The larger the engineering project, the more people it involved, the more there was a need to negotiate about this "why the system needs to be created", taking into account the various interests of people, the "objectivity" of understanding the purpose of the system ceased to be obvious. The purpose of the system turned out to be the result of agreements among many people.

People (both individually and in teams, enterprises, and extended enterprises - that is, a multitude of enterprises united within the framework of fulfilling some large contract for creating and developing a target system, for example, a nuclear power plant) assigned roles to systems in certain environments (even larger systems), clarified the functions that these systems were intended to perform in their environment. Without creator people creating a system - there is no system, there is just some "mere object" that appeared out of nowhere (because no one assigned it a purpose, no one paid attention to it, it is not needed by anyone for their activities, no one can clarify its boundaries, and any imaginative descriptions of such an object cannot be discussed).

Systems that no one is interested in, systems thinking cannot be applied to - simply because there will be no one to apply it, no one is interested! In engineering projects (iron, software, learning and education engineering, management (enterprise engineering), and a variety of other projects, it turned out that their target systems are not "objective", they are subjective! Their roles are defined by agents (in the narrow sense, that is, "intellectual agents capable of planning", people and AI agents), who play roles of creators/constructors in relation to various project systems, users/roles of these systems, victims/roles of these systems, and so on.

The variant of systems approach that emerged somewhere from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties of the 20th century, which takes into account that some systems are created and developed by other creator systems, often involving people, was named Systems Approach 2.0 ("the second generation of the systems approach"). In this version, mathematics became less prominent, and the discussion about people became more prevalent. In addition to describing the target system, it became important to describe the creator systems of that target system.

The roles of agents in relation to various (target, subsystems, suprasystems, creation systems in their long creation chains, and creation graphs) systems turned out to be extremely diverse.

The role with respect (aid or harm - from the role of the system to the project or from the system project to this role) in the projects of designing, creating, modifying, operating, and destroying the system was called a "project role" (stakeholder role, interested party, active actor). These project roles are performed by agent-actors/actors (a term from the use case method, but not only, as the term is generally widespread). In systems engineering, the term stakeholders was often used for agents in a constructive sense, although the term stakeholder is sometimes used to refer to the role itself: stakeholders often confuse stakeholder-actor and stakeholder-role, in which the actor is now.

The roles of activities, labor, culture, practice, engineering (you already understand that there can be multiple synonyms, "project role" is just one of them) roles, and the construct/material systems, usually are culturally conditioned - patterns of their activity/"practical type"/"cultural type"/practice/"type of engineering"/"method/way of working"/function, etc. hardly anyone does work in the same way/method/style/practice/function as the first in the world, so both how to work and the role are probably already named in some way, so there is no need to invent new terms, take these method and role names from the language. If someone-agent-constructive (for example, John Smith) is engaged in unauthorized access to data, this occupation will be called hacking::method, and he will be called a hacker::role.

In the earlier versions of this new (i.e., 1970s) version of systems thinking, in which systems were made by people, not existing objectively on their own and developing on their own, the project roles only considered those roles that had an impact on the system and the associated project, and had such a strong influence that it could not be ignored (for example, they ordered the creation of a system, paid for this creation - if these roles were not considered, there would be no money for work!). Later, they corrected this: those on whom the target system and its creators have an impact within the project of creation, are also considered project roles - these include those who can step on your toes, but also those on whose toes you are stepping (or can step on)! Thinking in terms of people in the systems approach has become more "Newtonian" and less "Aristotelian" ("the finger presses on the table, and the table presses on the finger"): people interact with systems, not only act on systems!

Similar deliberations about the "observer" in physics (we provided references to similar studies in the previous section) and deliberations about active perception in biological systems, developed by the Karl Friston group (an institute dedicated to the development of active inference ideas as an active/practical/proactive reasoning/inference system in various types of systems), gave a new turn to this line of reasoning in systems thinking. It turns out that the key is not so much in people as "conscious beings" but in this way of reasoning where some systems can appear to relate to other systems - and rational human beings precisely can also relate to completely inanimate systems, other people, organizations of people, and anything else, but this ability to observe (that is, to measure something there) the existence of other systems and even of one's own system (self-evidence, the assessment/measurement of one's state, which is often discussed in the works of Fields and Glazebrook) turns out to be inherent in all systems due to panpsychism in a minimal form of physicalism! All systems can be considered (although to varying degrees) as active/practical/active/agent/systematic entities and even rational/conscious entities!

This "all systems" concept applies not only to animals and further to plants, bacteria, or some computer systems but also to organizations (for ants, this would be the anthill - and we referred to a study that evaluates the "consciousness" of the anthill as a whole compared to the "consciousness" of individual ants, for humans, this would be a project team, an enterprise with many projects, even communities and societies where many enterprises are united within the framework of a larger project, and also individual networks of agents in swarms/swarms, and much more, considering the diversity of participants in these agent/creator organizations.

Biologists have long been discussing the "problem of individuality" because it is unclear which system (or object that is not reducible to a system but is most often related to a system or at least a type of system) in nature should be considered the main subject of evolution: the genome? The organism that developed from the genome? The population/family/pride/pack (male and female are no longer an organism but a population)? The population in the habitat? These are very different systems! And they are all alive (to some extent) and conscious (to some extent), so when considering the influence of one system on another, it is necessary to somehow take into account not only the roles of individual people but also the roles of completely different systems! This thesis is very unusual, but the literature we have shown demonstrates that this thesis helps productively discuss situations that are difficult to discuss if individuals are considered something exceptional in terms of agency, the sole representatives of "agents" in the narrow sense.

The second generation of systems thinking brought human creators into consideration because the lens shifted from physics and biology to engineering, and without this consideration, it was no longer possible. But if human agents were considered exceptional within the systems approach, we would lose the ability to have reliable explanations for the surrounding world and create truly complex systems. Given that AI agents are emerging on Earth, and genetic engineering is gaining momentum, these explanations become even more inadequate. Science and the scientific method are starting to be replaced by arbitrarily drawn ethical statements.

The problems with these explanations about the world as a "world picture dependent on being described by living humans" precisely lead to the proposal of new and newer works discussing physical and biological issues based on the scalability in the application of the systems approach. For this reason, new terminologies are currently being sought: people are being replaced by "agents" (as you may have noticed in the text of our course), and now "agency" turns out not to be the most important. Different systems simply have different abilities associated with "agency", meaning they all possess some level of consciousness, different types of memory, and capability to model, varying computing capabilities for planning actions, and diversity in reasoning. In any case, today's descriptions of the physical world strive to make them scalable in space and in time, explanations of the physical world of various systems, rather than descriptions of the "world of humans as seen precisely by humans, as humans used to see the world in the last century."

The goals of deanthropomorphizing descriptions of the world in language and thought (a complete departure from anthropocentrism) include:

  • Moving away from anchoring only to one system level of "human-individual" in the evolution of the universe. If we have multi-level evolution, we need to ensure a coherent language for discussion on the issue of the individual in biology, discussing multi-level individuals, having a name for the "evolutionary unit" (discussing genetic and memetic evolution, replicators, genes, and memes). This can help understand that an "individual," "agent" (in a broad sense), IPU (information processing unit) - they are all the same! A molecule is also in a way an individual/agent/IPU, and a human-as-a-single-organism, even society!
  • Moving away from parochial (private, for the current situation where exactly humans are on Earth) thinking, grounding thinking in a general affiliation to physics. Astrophysicists and mathematicians are physical systems, albeit very complex, a country is also a physical system, albeit more complex than astrophysicists and mathematicians (roles played by people, but occasionally also AI agents. The roles of these astrophysicists and mathematicians could also be played by research institutions of human-astrophysicists and human-mathematicians, together with AI agents involved in these institutions).
  • Identifying transdisciplinary discussions along the line of increasing the complexity of "inert matter"-entity-"rational personality"-organization-community-society. In terms of pure physicality, these are creators/constructors, concerning the emergence of rational beings; these are agents and multi-agent systems. The terminology may vary, but certainly not "human," while creators become universal creators, universal constructor, that is, ultimately it's about potentially any (theoretically any! Just as a Turing machine can theoretically make any calculation, if talking about something mathematically computable) transformations of matter into target systems if not prohibited by the laws of physics. In fact, constructor theory, multilevel evolution, active inference, and the agency approach in philosophy in general all work toward this direction.
  • Considering not only animals and humans, but also cyborgs, and artificial intelligences, along with their equipment for changing the physical world, then branching out to their organizations/collectives and societies, and even communities and societies and all "agenthood" (if stuck to anthropocentrism, one will write "humanity").
  • Moving towards a new praxeology (a general theory of purposeful action, close to methodology), sociology, politics, economics, and jurisprudence: overcoming numerous problems arising in discussions of discrepancies between different systemic levels in society, both humans and non-humans, including distributed computations and actions in a firm, in a market, working with resource pools (ownership and collective property), including computational/mental resources and resources for action to change the world for the better (considering various understandings of "for the better," noting the contradictions among systems at different system levels).
  • Untying the problem of managing attention (consciousness) from peculiarities specifically of humans, discussing not only humans but humans together with animals and computers, including robots with sensors and actuators: Narrow-sense agents, universal creators/constructors with certain modelings and planning abilities of different natures, considering a wide range of participants in agent/creator organizations.
  • A more productive discussion about ethics (extropianism, transhumanism, bioethics, AI ethics, issues of subjugating humans and non-humans to society, society to humanity, and all such topics) in conditions of infinite biological and technological development and the presence of many systemic levels with inevitable contradictions between systems of these levels and mechanisms similar to the mechanisms of "frustrations" (geometrical frustrations).
  • ... and much more, which is easier to discuss when detaching from a clear attachment only to one system level of "human-individual". Such an attachment does not only give a "Ptolemaic model of humans" but also the "Ptolemaic model of the world only around human beings, with all their declared uniqueness and rationality." Moving away from this parochial, private "for humans on Earth" world model to a more general, nonanthropocentric, and scalable one, based on the ongoing evolution of the universe (part of which is Darwinian evolution of life on Earth, and today's non-Darwinian techno-evolution).