Whole Systems

"John W. Gunkler"
Junior Member
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Mar 29, 2002 3:39 am

Whole Systems

Post by "John W. Gunkler" » Wed Nov 11, 1998 10:28 am

I have adopted, over many years of struggling to be clear in my writing and
speaking, the precept that if a word or phrase begins to be used in a way
that makes it essentially useless I try to get people to agree to change its

I sense that the time has come to do this with "whole system." If, as some
(such as George Backus -- not to pick on you, George; I always appreciate
your contributions to this list) write, "whole system" cannot be used for
anything less that everything in the universe plus everything else anyone
ever imagines to be in the universe -- I would say that the phrase is going
to the scrap heap. And thats a shame, because I think there may be
uses/meanings of "whole system" that we might want to keep. [And Im not
fond of substituting the locution "whole subsystem" even though that might

For example, Marvin Weisbord writes of his method of exploring system
thinking in an organization by saying he "gets the whole system in the
room." In context this has a pretty precise meaning and is a very useful

I have for years been told about whole systems of thought -- such as
Newtons laws of motion -- and found the idea of "completeness" (or supposed
completeness) an important insight into what these thinkers were trying to
accomplish. Sure, Newton didnt include properties of objects such as their
color, taste, inclination to vote Republican (and many others) in what he
was trying to do. That would have been ridiculous. So is any notion of
"whole system" such as I hear being used in this dialogue.

So, I propose that we agree that "whole system" can be used in proper
context to mean "everything we believe must be included in order to describe
______ (fill in the blank.)" Note: I think its critically important to
fill in the blank -- thats what gives what I called the "proper context."

I know, I know -- this is just the definition many people have for
"subsystem" or "problem." However, the notion of completeness is missing
from those words. And if it is the intention of trying to include
everything necessary, I like having a signal that completeness or wholeness
is part of the enterprise.

What do you think? Must "whole system" be put on the scrap heap, never to
be uttered again, or can we salvage it for useful work?

From: "John W. Gunkler" <

"George Backus"
Junior Member
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Mar 29, 2002 3:39 am

Whole Systems

Post by "George Backus" » Fri Nov 13, 1998 9:14 am

Jim Hines
Junior Member
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Mar 29, 2002 3:39 am

Whole Systems

Post by Jim Hines » Sat Nov 14, 1998 11:16 am