Chapter 1 Introduction

We make up our mind to name two modes of manifestation for a reality … We must not treat the two modes as two separate and independent realities; otherwise, we will go astray.





General systems theory is scientific exploration of structure and wholeness of the systems. All systems form because of interactions between the parts; however, we cannot decompose the world into independently existing parts. A system is always a complex of many subsystems. Systems theory tries to deal with these highly complex systems.

A very comprehensive review on the history and topic in the systems view of life is given in a new book by Professor Fritjof Capra ad Pier Luigi Luisi.

The main characteristics of systemic thinking emerged in Europe by biologists. Bogdanov and Bertalanffy independently formulated a comprehensive theoretical framework describing the principles of organization of living systems. The concept was further enriched in psychology, sociology, ecology, and physics, etc. Systems thinking is very general.

We may try to treat any sustaining system as a living system. This is a common background thought in systems thinking, philosophy, and religions. The world is a living system. The living systems and philosophical thinking of reality share the same characteristics of self-making and self-sustaining.

Definition of Systems

A system is a set of objects that are interconnected to produce patterns of behavior. These patterns serve to support the functions of the system. In philosophy, a reality is a set of thoughts that are linked to form representations of the reality. A general system can be a culture, a society, a religion, or any organization.

Here we want to show that the systems thinking may be based on the principle of Oneness. In dualism, we may describe a system with two isolated parts that cover the whole domain. These parts interact coherently to form patterns that can represent the characteristics of that system.

In our dualistic model, there will be two patterns. The two patterns may have different characteristics and will appear at the same time and are two equivalent ways of representing the system. Thus, the system manifests in multiple ways, but remains as indivisible.

We have to define a few terms so our discussion can be understood with consistency. For example, we need to define our concepts of “one and many” related to reality. A system is a coherent whole which has parts, but the system is constraint overall by the property of Oneness. We first adopt the following definitions:

  • The Parts and the incoherent Whole – A system has a whole domain subdivided into parts. Each part covers a non-overlapping subdomain. In terms of domains, the sum of the parts is the whole, but this whole is a uncorrelated whole where there is no correlation between the parts.
  • Wholeness and Oneness – When all parts are fully interconnected, we say that the system has wholeness. The difference between wholeness and Oneness is that the wholeness may have parts and Oneness is without any part. Therefore, we may have many subsystems with different structures of parts that constitute the same wholeness.
  • In general, there are many patterns of the objects that can form a coherent whole. These patterns may have different objects or structures of the objects, but they all form the same coherent whole.

In our discussions, each part is an object. The whole is the representation of Oneness in the phenomenal world. Oneness, commonly labelled as One by Plato or Parmenides,  is infinite or indefinite. As described by Parmenides : “One then is neither at rest nor in motion.” Oneness is beyond any multiplicity. One is not many, and therefore has no parts, and therefore is not a whole, which is a sum of parts and therefore has neither beginning, middle, nor end, and is therefore unlimited, and therefore formless…

Oneness is the transcendental characteristic of all systems in the phenomenal world. A system must consist of three kinds of things: objects, interconnections, and the function or purpose of the system. The common purpose is to survive or to last like a living organism. For this purpose, the function is to maintain the wholeness where all parts are networked as a in the system.

Two Views on Systems

There are two ways to look at the systems: The Cartesian and the systems views. These two are often taken to be opposite views.

Cartesian science believed that in any complex system, the behaviors of the whole could be analyzed in terms of the properties of its parts. In this mechanistic view, the world is a collection of objects. These objects interact with one another to form relationships among them. In such science, the objects are of primary interest and the relationships are secondary in order to show the properties of the system.

For systems thinkers, the properties of the systems are the relations or the patterns of the objects. Systems science shows that living systems cannot be understood by the analysis of the properties of the objects. The properties of the parts inside the system are not intrinsic properties of the system. A part is merely used to build a pattern to represent the properties of the system. The relationships of the objects are primary. These parts are not real.

A philosophical reality is also a network of relationships. Our descriptions of a reality may be based on objects (words), but these objects are used only to form an interconnected network of concepts that cannot represent the reality. In systems thinking, there are no definite building block of objects as long as the objects can form the patterns.

The Cartesian and the Systems views have been two successful approaches to understand a system.

Our logic model will show that there is no real conflict between these two views. They are complementary with the same principle. The Cartesian logic relies on the interactions between the objects to build the patterns, while the systems logic relies directly on the feedback interactions between the patterns. The interactions between the objects are responsible for creating the patterns and the feedbacks. We may show these two views in Figure 1:

Figure 1 Cartesian and Systems Views

The Cartesian dualistic logic has dominated all our thinking for several hundred years. Actually, dualistic thinking is well-ingrained into our language and our description of reality is always language-dependent. Systems thinking try to free us from the dualistic thinking by maintaining the wholeness preserved in the patterns. Systems thinking is a proper way to restore holistic thinking in many disciplines.

We shall concentrate on the common features in these two approaches. In fact, these two views are different representations of the same system. Both views should obey the same principle of wholeness or the principle of Oneness. Both views are equivalent.

In the following, we shall discuss introductory background for our formal logic model, which is discussed in Chapter 3.

The Logic Model

We shall define the structure of our logic model and the terminology to be used in our discussions. This is appropriate since many terms have been adopted for different meanings in different systems.

In order to show the basic logic structure, we shall use a simple dualistic model. The results of this simple model can shed important light on the nature of reality. Our conclusions may be extrapolated to a general system.

The Logic Structure

We shall show the logic structure of the systems in terms of objects, subsystems, and the final subsystems. Therefore, they are the three levels in our model, as shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2  Three-Level Systems Thinking

The Cartesian view is the object level where the system is represented by the objects and their interactions. Systems thinking is in general at the subsystems level, where the subsystems support the function of the system with the mutual feedback interactions between the subsystems.

In a philosophical investigation of reality, the crucial question is : What is the reality? Whatever has interactions with its environment is not independent and therefore is not a reality. The reality is represented at the actuality level, where the subsystems are fully integrated and become independent from each other. We shall call these final subsystems the actualities in our model.

Therefore, the three levels in our model correspond to the Cartesian view, the Systems view, and the philosophical view on reality. The final subsystems can represent the reality in terms of the patterns of the subsystems or the objects. The actualities are the representations of the reality in the phenomenal world.

Systems Thinking

Our systems thinking includes all levels. Traditional systems thinking is mainly concerned with the subsystems level with subsystems in their environments.[1] Each subsystem consists of a subset of the objects in the system; the final subsystems contain all objects in the system.

As in metaphysics of reality, the final subsystems are the manifestations or the revelations of the reality. As shown in Figure 2, when all objects are integrated to form the final representations of the reality, we will have two, not one, final subsystems and each final subsystem is a whole manifestation of the reality.

Objects and Language

Our description of the subsystems and the actualities are based on the objects, which are coded in our language. Our descriptions are language-dependent, but they will describe the same reality in different patterns of languages; the ultimate descriptions of the actualities are patterns of objects. The patterns reflect the logical structure of the objects. Therefore, the logic of the system is the way we can use the objects to describe the actualities. If we understand the logic, then we may be able to recognize the proper patterns of the language that can represent the reality.

Three Levels are Equivalent

We should note that the three levels are not three different levels of reality. At the actuality level, we describe the system in terms of actualities. At the subsystems level, we describe the system in terms of subsystems and feedbacks. At the object levels, we describe the system in terms of objects and interactions.

The system is fully, completely, and equivalently represented at each level. In other words, each level equally preserves the wholeness of the system. This is required by the principle of Oneness.

Since our tool for description is our language, the descriptions at all levels are eventually based on patterns of objects. The patterns is only implicit at the object level; the interconnectedness of the objects are governed by the laws of interactions.

Objects, Subsystems and Actualities

In order to make our model clear, we shall further describe the objects, subsystems, and actualities used in our model. Ultimately, our inquires of the systems concern the relationship between the parts and the whole. This has been the basic philosophical issue since Aristotle labelled it as the problem of “the one and the many.”

Parts may be Objects or Subsystems

In our model, we define the “parts” as the isolated objects at the object level or the isolated subsystems at the subsystems level. Such isolations exclude the interactions between the objects or the feedback interactions between the subsystems. In terms of domain, the whole refers to the whole domain and each part belongs to a subdomain.

These isolated parts are interconnected via external interactions. The interactions are external to the parts. Each part adapts to its environment and behaves as an autonomy by interacting to all other parts.

Internal and External Interactions

A subsystem is formed by a sub-group of objects in the system. The sub-groups may overlap. That is, an object may appear in multiple subsystems as a member of different patterns. The objects in a subsystem interact with the objects in other subsystems. Here we categorize the interactions of the objects as internal and external interactions. The internal interactions are interactions between the objects inside the subsystem. Such internal interactions form the patterns of the subsystems. All interactions with the objects outside the subsystem are external interactions. The external interactions are reflected as the environment of the subsystem.


As more and more external interactions are internalized, the subsystems will involve more and more objects. Eventually, each final subsystem will contain all the objects in the system. Therefore, each final subsystem is a particular pattern of all objects in the system.

The final subsystem contains all interactions of all objects and there is no external interaction between the final subsystems. We shall use actuality for the final subsystem in our model discussions.

Each actuality contains all objects organized as a particular pattern; all patterns are independent.[2] As shown in Figure 2, all actualities are free from any interaction. All actualities are whole. All objects are included in all actualities in different patterns or organizational relations. There will be many patterns that can represent the system or the reality. The representation is object-dependent or language-dependent description of the patterns (principle) of the reality, and is not a description of the reality itself.

It becomes paradoxical that the systems may be represented by its parts in different patterns, but the system does not have any properties that can be based on these parts. In fact, this is also true in scientific system, where the parts are only used to construct the patterns represented in a theory.[3] The theory is the driving force to build a pattern according the a principle.

The objects are by convention only

An object represent a basic unit used in our communication of a pattern. We accept the objects as our “building blocks of social reality.”[4] The objects are our “constitutional facts” that we can use to construct the patterns that can represent the reality.

In our model discussion, it will be useful to use the concept of domain. Each system has a whole domain. For convenience, we subdivide this whole domain into many sub-domains and represent each sub-domain by an object. That is, we may choose any group of objects to represent a systems as long as the group can cover the whole domain of the system. Therefore, the group of objects is chosen as a convenient means to cover the whole domain of the system under discussion.

But, these objects must interconnected to form some patterns or subsystems that can represent the whole. In a living system, the object may be a cell, or an atom, or a body part, etc. In the logic model, an object may be the basic idea represented by words.

Subsystems and Patterns

In general systems thinking, the system is represented by many interrelated subsystems or patterns. As shown in Figure 2, each subsystem consists of a subset of the objects in the system. An object may appear in multiple subsystems and play different roles in constructing the patterns. The internal interactions form the structure of the subsystem and the subsystems will interact due to the external interactions between the subsets of the objects in different subsystems. The subsystems are intermediate, unstable, patterns formed by the subsets of the objects in the system. These subsystems are not stable because they are still interacting with their environments. We may view the system as a complex of subsystems. The objects in a subsystem are strongly interconnected inside the subsystem and weakly connected to the objects in other subsystems. The subsystems and their environments maintain a dynamic balance.

Each subsystem only consists of a partial set of the objects in the system, so they are only parts of the whole. Although these parts may have overlapping objects, but each part shows a different pattern. These patterns cannot represent the reality. When the subsystems and their environments are considered together, they constitute the wholeness of the system.

Reality, System, and Actuality

In our investigation of reality, we consider the evolution of the subsystems as the process to seek the reality. We are interested in the final subsystems that can represent the reality. The reality is the system, or the system is the reality in our discussion.

As shown in Figure 2, the subsystems will interact via feedback interactions and become the final subsystems when all objects are included and all interactions are harmonized. Harmonization means that the external interactions disappear. Then the final subsystems may represent the reality. In a final subsystem, all objects of the system are harmonized and organized into a particular pattern to show the reality.

Therefore, each final subsystem is a particular pattern of all objects of the system. These final subsystems are independent representations of the reality. [5]

In our model, we are interested only in the final subsystem, so our patterns normally refer to the final subsystem, where the representation is realistic, complete and whole. [6]  In. dualism, there are two, not just one, such final representations of the system reality.

Model is Object-dependent

In our model, the reality of a system can only be represented by patterns of the objects. The patterns are based on the organization of the objects. For example, the principle of Tao philosophy may be represented in terms of many “opposite pairs,” such as Wu and Yu, Yin and Yang, Black and White, etc. The resulting pattern is a complementarity of the opposite pairs (This will be discussed later in Chapter 3). Although the objects are different, the patterns are the same.

We call the final subsystems as the actualities in the model. Our goal is the logic to describe actualities with the objects.

Cartesian and Systems Thinking

We may recapture the two ways to look at the logic structure shown in Figure 2. For any reality, we may use the Cartesian analysis or the systems analysis.

In Cartesian analysis, we assume the properties of the objects and describe the function of the system in terms of these objects. This the upward process that goes from the object level to the actuality level shown in the figure. This approach is common in scientific theory, which starts from the objects to build the subsystems, and uses the subsystems to explain the function of the whole. The interactions and the laws of interactions between the objects are implicitly built into the theoretical framework and, often the resulting patterns formed by the objects are not explicitly shown in the theory.

On the contrary, in  the systems analysis, we identify the function of the whole in order to define the functions of the subsystems and treat the subsystems as networks of objects. This is a downward process from the system to the subsystems level in the figure. The objects are only used to show the patterns of the subsystems. The main concern is the subsystems and their feedback interactions with the environments.

The objects have a very limited role in showing the function of the whole. The properties of the objects are of secondary importance.

On the surface, these two processes appear to be opposites, but our model can show that they are equivalent in principle. In either the Cartesian or the systems view, the meeting place is the patterns: the pattern in the Cartesian approach is in the theoretical framework and the pattern in the systems approach is explicit. In both cases, the patterns are generated by the interactions between the objects according to a principle. This principle is Oneness of the system. This is the basic principle in our discussion of a reality or a system. Our thinking of a reality at all levels must conform to the Principle of Oneness.

The Principle of Oneness

The function of the system is to retain Oneness. This function must be preserved in all levels of our discussions of the structure shown in Figure 2.

In the example of dualism of Chapter 3, we start with the two opposite objects to cover the whole domain. The objects are not sufficient to describe a reality since the objects are only parts and the reality is a whole. At the object level, all objects are interconnected properly by their interactions that follow a principle to preserve Oneness at the level. The principle is that the final subsystems will be independent after the interaction are harmonized according to the principle.

We may skip the intermediate subsystems level in our discussion of the principle of Oneness since, at this level, the subsystems behave exactly like the objects at the object level and interact via the feedback interactions. We may have many levels of subsystems. The subsystems are not whole, but they are interconnected via their feedback interactions. Therefore, the intermediate subsystems at each level also preserve Oneness.

At the actuality level, we have the actualities that have the final patterns of the objects by harmonizing the interactions. Oneness is preserved in each of the actualities. In dualism, we have two independent patterns at the actuality level that can represent the reality. The two actualities will have different patterns, but are simultaneous and equivalent representations of the same reality. The two actualities are closely related; therefore, the reality is not divided at the actuality level. The two representations are simultaneous and equivalent. This is how Oneness is preserved at the actuality level.

Oneness and Wholeness

How can we describe Oneness with our language? Oneness can only be described by negative statements, such as empty of objects, indefinite, infinite, without forms and without image, etc. Our language and thinking are based on our senses of the multitudes of things in the world. These senses are represented by the objects, but we believe that the myriad things are linked to Oneness of all. The reality is that all things are One and everything we see should reflect everything else. Everything should reflect the wholeness of the myriad things.

Therefore, the best we can do is to reconstruct the wholeness of everything. Then the reality can be represented as wholeness of everything in everything. Each thing can show itself in a pattern that also reflects everything else. In this case, everything is a representation of reality. In systems thinking, everything becomes an independent pattern of all the things in the world.[7]

We shall see that our actualities will have wholeness and may be reconstructed from the objects. Each actuality represent an object in a pattern that also reflect all other objects. In our logic model, the objects are our language. We may use language to describe the actuality that can represent the reality.

Linguistic Expression of Wholeness

We shall use our language as objects to describe the patterns of actualities as the reality. We assume an object represents a simple concept that can be expressed directly in our language.

However, in dualism, each actuality is a complex of two superimposed objects. The opposite concepts (objects) cannot be expressed directly in our language, due to the dualistic nature of our language. Therefore, an actuality remains as a complex concept in our mind that will show interferences within the actuality.

As we shall discuss in Chapter 3, when we render the actuality into language, the expression will appear fuzzy, self-contradictory and indeterminate. However, such fuzzy, self-contradictory and indeterminate statements are the proper way to describe the nature of reality.

This is an important conclusion. Our descriptions of Oneness and wholeness are obscure because we always think in terms of objects and take objects to be real. We have to overcome our habit of dualistic thinking. For this purpose, systems thinking becomes important. General systems thinking implicitly assumes wholeness by describing the systems and the subsystems.

A General Principle

We have first discover the Principle of Oneness in the analysis of Tao philosophy. This principle shows how the function of a whole can be expressed as organizations patterns of the parts.

This principle is also recognized as systems thinking by Capra and Luisi. Their view is stated as:

The ancient Chinese philosophers believed that the ultimate reality, which underlies and unifies the multiple phenomena we observe, is intrinsically dynamic. They called it Tao – the way, or process, of the universe. For the Taoist sages all things, whether animate or inanimate, were embedded in the continuous flow and change of the Tao. The belief that everything in the universe is imbued with life has also been characteristic of indigenous spiritual traditions throughout the ages. In monotheistic religions, by contrast, the origin of life is associated with a divine creator.

The concept of Oneness is also the core of the early Greek philosophy, the Indian philosophy, and the Buddhist philosophy. The same principle is also observed by most modern philosophers and scientific investigations.

The logic structure behind systems theories can be traced back to the ancient Chinese, Greek, and Indian philosophy. Some examples of ancient philosophy will be in Chapter 4.

Summary of this Book

Chapter 1 Introduction is an overview of systems thinking and the underlying principle. Chapter 2 is the general systems theory and introduction to a dualistic model. Chapter 3 develops the logic structure and its applications. There are many interesting logical consequences of the model, including its relationship to the Aristotle’s Square of Oppositions. Chapter 4 shows some unusual consequences of the logic model. Chapter 5 extends the logic model to the proper relationships among the past, present, and the future.. Chapter 6 describes systems thinking in the ancient Western and Eastern philosophy. This include systems thinking is worded by Lao-tzu, Parmenides, and the Buddha. Chapter 7 is a short summary.

Appendix A is the Square of Oppositions. Appendix B is the interpretation of the Zeno Paradoxes. Appendix C lists the major keywords.

[1]   Chinese holistic medicine may be an exception since all organs are interconnected. Each organ can represent the whole body. In our terminology, each organ is a fully integrated subsystem, i.e., an actuality.

[2]   Mathematically, there actualities are orthogonal to each other.

[3]   For example, we do not invoke the properties of hydrogen and oxygen in our description of water.

[4]   John R. Searle, “The Construction of Social Reality,” The Free Press, 1995

[5]   In mathematics, these subsystems are orthogonal in the multi-dimensional space of the reality. They are the reality vectors.

[6]   The  intermediate subsystems are viewed as the steps in the process philosophy which will be discussed later.

[7]   Everything becomes a monad with qualities specified by Leibniz’s Monadologie. They are eternal, indecomposable, individual, subject to their own laws, un-interacting, and each reflecting the entire universe in a pre-established harmony.