Systems Science Friday Noon Seminar Series



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Despite impressive contributions, the philosophical foundations of systems theory remain in flux. In the practical context, the proper understanding of the relation of the systems framework to classical mechanics and quantum theory remains unresolved.

I argue our understanding of systems theory is advanced by recognizing the crucial link to engineering and thermodynamics. Engineering thermodynamics is more general than the historically dominant ‘rational mechanical’ thermodynamics of Clausius, Boltzmann, the Entropy Cult (viz. Jaynes’s MEP) and the recent information theory.

That systems theory’s philosophical foundations are in a philosophy of engineering and an engineering worldview should be no surprise, given the modern origins in cybernetics and operations research. The natural extension of systems to ecology, from Odum to Ulanowicz, support the thesis. More recently, Paul Romer’s New Growth Economics moved us from the old scientific economics to an inherently developmental engineering systems framework.

The Systems Engineering Thermodynamics Paradigm (SETP), is more general than all possible scientific, mechanical frameworks, formally subsuming and superseding. To subsume means to be able to explain all the successes of the prior scientific paradigms as idealizing special cases. To supersede is more subtle. It means that SETP understands the limited scientific paradigms in a new way, within its more comprehensive conceptual framework.

Biographical Information

President, Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy. Affiliated with Portland State University. Education: Berkeley and London. History and Philosophy of Science (Feyerabend, Kuhn, Lakatos, Popper). Morphed in History and Philosophy of (Systems) Engineering. Taught 8 years at Linfield College, intermittently over 20 years at PSU, PCC, Marylhurst. Organizes Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture Series,


Computer Sciences

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Systems Evolution and Engineering Thermodynamics