The first challenge we face as systems scientists is of course the extreme degree of specialization, or even hyper-specialization, found in the world today. A particular challenge lies in the fact that this specialization has become routine and normal to many people. But while the current degree of specialization may seem normal to some, to me it signals fragmentation, possibly to the point
of system failure in some cases.
Many of the hyper-specialized non-systems models in use today in various fields are so narrow, partial, incomplete, or piecemeal, that they probably could not stand careful critical analysis. Unfortunately, overly-narrow models are so familiar and so widely accepted that they are seldom challenged. They are not critically examined or compared with systems models. If they were, the systems model might often prove to be superior, and thus the clear model of choice.
2. Our second challenge is an academic reward system that is based on specialization. Pressure to publish for promotion often leads scholars to publish articles instead of books, and short books instead of long books. Quick and short publications often are inadequate to develop the complex analyses that modern systems theory demands.
3. The third related challenge is that funding sources may favor neat empirical research over complex (and often abstract) systems analyses.
4. Our fourth challenge is that systems theory may still face charges of determinism from critics who fear that an overarching approach robs the individual actor of his or her free will, or decision making ability. Scholars seeking to develop models that offer individual “empowerment” may fear that concepts such as feedback or equilibrium will hinder their goals. Consider, for example, a complex theory like Miller’s (1978) Living Systems Theory.
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The theme that I have chosen for the 2004 Meeting is “Fifty Years of Systems Science: Honoring Tradition, Embracing the Future.” There are two sub-themes of “Integration”, and “Continuity”.
Today I want to briefly discuss the goals and challenges of ISSS. The founders presented one primary goal and four corollaries. I will list them as five original goals, and will also suggest five additional goals for your consideration. I will also list 10 challenges to contemporary systems science.