11
Jan

Matryoshka

   Posted by: dhcsoul   in cybernetics

Russian Dolls or A Cybernetic View
of Systems – Part I

We will start with
the premise that we are interested in things that are connected
.  Never mind now why, for now it is sufficient
just to state that we are interested in such a connection of things.   To
make coversation easier, rather than always saying ‘the collection of things
that are connected’ we will attach the label ‘system’ to this collection
.  To be clear, we shall define a system as any
cohesive collection of items that is dynamically related.

Matriochka: <span style="font-style: italic; color: rgb(255, 0, 0);">Matriochka</span> So, for example, a game of darts is something that,
according to this premise, we are interested in.  It consists of several darts, a dart board,
and of course a couple of people competing against each other according to a
set of rules that define the game.  Each
of these parts does not define our game – only the collection does. And this is
a system and by our premise, of interest. 
On cursory examination, the dartboard, or a dart for that matter, would
appear not to be of interest by our definition above but, of course, it does’t
take all that much reflection to reveal that we have caused ourself a
problem.  For we can’t just dismiss
either the board or the dart that easily, for each is not an indivisible whole
but rather itself the connection of a number of items put together in a fairly
complex constuction. Consider the dart components: the barrel, the point, the
shaft, the flights and each can be made in of various materials… enough
variations in style, construction and material exist that there are literally
thousands of different styles of darts made each year! Note that each
combination is a different instatiation of 
the system called ‘dart’.

In fact, if our definition of a system appears somewhat
arbirtary, it is not just appearance it is indeed true that a definition of any
particular system will be arbitrary.  We
can look at one of the pieces of our game of darts and quickly see that it is
composed of systems just as it, itself, is a part of a larger system – indeed
it is likely part of arbirtrarily many larger systems (perhaps in our example
the game is part of the ‘pub’ or ‘recreation center’ system, or perhaps in a
somewhat different perspective it is one game in a match or a full tournament
or ???  Actually it is characteristic of
our systems that they will indeed be part of many different systems – depending
on how we look we will see something different.

All our systems, no matter where we look, seem to be made up
of sets of systems with each contained within larger systems – a sort of cosmic
set of Russian Dolls.  And just as we can
always expand our view to see a system of larger scope, it is also possible to
go in the other direction of scale and see a system of smaller scope.  Take the ‘point’ of the dart itself – it
would be easy to claim that we have reached the end of the reduction process
and claim that this is no loner a system (it certainly won’t fly with enough
precision to be called a ‘dart’ in the game sense of the word).  But consider this, the temper (and other characteristics)
of the metal is determined by a myriad of interactions arising from a complex
system of metallurgical components that interact.  Even further reduction of scope takes us from
looking at ‘grains of steel’ to looking at the atomic structure.

In general, to
consider the interactions affecting any given item we define that item as being
part of a system
.

We define the system in such a way that it contains
interrelated parts and, accoding to some perspective we have taken, it is a
complete whole.  The trick, of course, is
stating the system in such a way that its study or understanding thereof, is
useful to us.  In each case we can
possibly consider, however, the things we are interested in can be regarded as
a simple aggregate – that is, bits and pieces if you will – but they only
become truly interesting when connections are made between the bits and
pieces.  And what is even more
interesting is that our system is dynamic, there are interactions between the
bits and pieces that change over time, and understanding requires study of the
dynamic interactions of the whole.

Control, as an aspect of this type of system, is what we
will consider in cybernetics and indeed this concept provides the context for
our study:

Cybernetics: the study of systems

But there is more because for all this talk there are some
systems which will prove ‘more interesting’ than others if for no other reason
that they are more difficult to comprehend than their simpler bretheren … but
this kettle of fish is something we will discuss elsewhere, when the discussion
of complexity will be addressed head on.

For now, returning to the matter of control, it is crucial
to note that as indicated earlier, control
is an aspect of systems
. In deed we will state that the kind of thing that can be controlled is a system.  Cybernetics, in particular, is interested in
those areas where systems are most complex – where control is not just an
aspect of the system but a crucial component of the ongoing existence of the
system.  Our game of darts, physical
systems such as a car or the human body, a national economies – all are systems
in this sense; and all have an attribute of Control.

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Tags: CEP, cybernetics

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