Systems theoryinterdisciplinary field which studies systems as a whole. Systems theory was founded by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, William Ross Ashby and others between the 1940s and the 1970s on principles from physics, biology and engineering and later grew into numerous fields including philosophy, sociology, organizational theory, management, psychotherapy (within family systems therapy) and economics among others. Cybernetics is a related field, sometimes considered as a part of systems theory.
Systems theory focuses on complexity and interdependence. It has a strong philosophical dimension, because applied to the human mind and society, it results in unusual perspectives. In recent times complex systems has increasingly been used as a synonym. Systems theory has also been developed within sociology. The most notable scientist in this area is Niklas Luhmann (see Luhmann 1994).
Part of systems theory, system dynamics is a method for understanding the dynamic behavior of complex systems. The basis of the method is the recognition that the structure of any system -- the many circular, interlocking, sometimes time-delayed relationships among its components -- is often just as important in determining its behavior as the individual components themselves. Examples are chaos theory and social dynamics.
In recent years, the field of systems thinking has been developed to provide techniques for studying systems in holistic ways to supplement more traditional reductionistic methods. In this more recent tradition, systems theory is considered by some as a humanistic counterpart to the natural sciences.
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