version 1.2: 23 January 2019
The Importance of a World View
We are learning to solve problems that arise in the context of complex systems. Our approach will be to construct a model of the system of interest and try to reproduce the problem behavior. If that can be accomplished, we will attempt to mitigate the problem behavior by repairing or modifying one or more aspects of the system.
Identifying the cause of a problem in a complex system can be a daunting task. One of the ways we can make it more difficult on ourselves is to ignore potential causes of the problem by not including enough information in our model. That information might be any number of relations within the system of interest (endogenous behaviors), or by not recognizing interactions of environmental systems with our system (exogenous behaviors).
One way to minimize under-modeling a system is to begin our analysis with as broad a systems perspective as possible, and then eliminate the obvious nonparticipating systems. That initial picture is what we call a World View.
A World View is a picture of our world characterized as a number of interacting systems. We call these systems environmental systems because they form the environment of any system that we choose to model.
A World View is a picture of our world characterized as a number of interacting systems.
Figure: World View
Environmental Systems and Modeling
We recognize a given number of environmental systems and list them here:
These systems are shown in the World View figure along with their interconnections. We refer to this depiction as a systems network diagram. The lines that serve as links in this network represent one or more influences between systems. The direction of an arrowhead at the end of a link implies the direction of the influence from one system to the next. Note that the world as we have drawn it is a complex system because the environmental systems are connected with multiple feedback loops.
We do not mean to imply that our World View is designed to model the universe in which we live. Our World View has been constructed with the idea that at some point in the future we will be solving problems related to the health of human biosystems. We have attempted to include in our World View all of the environments which we think might interact in some way with human biosystems to affect their health. We propose that this World View be considered as a starting point for all problem solving efforts related to human biosystems. Because, once the problem solver gets embedded in modeling the details of a system of interest, it becomes more difficult for them to recognize the importance of exogenous influences that may have been overlooked at the beginning of the analysis.
We offer one example to rationalize our World View approach. In the study of the formation of cancers, especially the rate of increase of cancers in the aging human biosystem, it may be possible that a lifetime of exposure to cosmic rays is a primary causal factor. Thus we can look to astrosystems as a culprit in the production of cancers, where the longer the exposure to cosmic rays, the higher the probability that one or more cancers may form. This exposure may cause irreparable damage to chromosomes and the genes that they hold, resulting in the abnormalities we call cancer cells.
One might infer from our discussion that model building is biased: indeed, this is true. We need to keep our models as simple as possible ("but no simpler") in order to keep our problem solving efforts within the bounds of the resources available to us. On the other hand, we need to be careful not to bias our models in such a way that our preconceived notion of a solution is built into the model structure. This can be done consciously with some effort, or unconsciously with very little effort. Try to strike a balance between effort and the probability of obtaining meaningful results.
Notes on Systems Network Diagrams
Systems network diagrams are just that: diagrams. They are not models. They are drawn to suggest the presence of influences from one system to the next. Nevertheless they can be helpful in organizing our thoughts. For example, in our World View diagram, Biosystems, and Geosystems are shown to be influenced by all the other systems in the diagram, yet Ecosystems, which we might think of as being more complex, are influenced by only two. The reason is that an ecosystem comprises biosystems and geosystems. An ecosystem describes what is happening to the biosystems and geosystems within its purview. An ecosystem defines what biosystems and geosystems to include in our problem analysis.
Not shown, but assumed, are relations between different or the same biosystems. This is also true for geosystems. For example, to see the influence of predator prey relationships within a set of biosystems, we would have to delve into the number and nature of the biosystems that we have chosen to include in our system description. Again, our choice of an ecosystem helps us make those choices. We can draw systems network diagrams to describe these types of interactions just as well.
Systems of Human Activities play a role similar to that of ecosystems—they help determine which biosystems, geosystems, and ecosystems to include in our models. In many cases where we look for simple cause and effect explanations of a problem, a systems view may reveal much more elaborate chains of events leading to the problem. Viewing human activities as being influenced by a large number of interlinked systems helps us avoid oversimplifying the nature of a problem.
As we delve into the nature of human biosystems, we will find that systems network diagrams play a role similar that of "cartoons" in the biological sciences. That is, both can be used to depict the networked relations of cell and molecular biology. Although cartoons make for interesting works of art, the lack of semantical standardization from author to author makes them difficult to interpret. We think that systems network diagrams will provide a much improved means of depicting the same cellular and molecular activities.