General Systems Thinking
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General Systems Thinking

An Introduction

About the Book

For forty years, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking has been hailed as an innovative introduction to systems theory, with applications in software development and testing, medicine, engineering, social sciences, architecture, and beyond. Used in university courses and professional seminars all over the world, the text has proved its ability to open minds and sharpen thinking. Originally published in 1975 and reprinted dozens of times, the book uses clear writing to explore new approaches to projects, products, organizations, and virtually any kind of system.

Scientists, engineers, organization leaders, managers, doctors, students, and thinkers of all disciplines can use this book to dispel the mental fog that clouds problem-solving. As author Gerald M. Weinberg writes, "I haven't changed my conviction that most people don't think nearly as well as they could had they been taught some principles of thinking."

With more than 50 helpful illustrations and 80 examples from two dozen fields, and an appendix on a mathematical notation used in problem-solving, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking may be your most powerful tool in working with problems, systems, and solutions."

John D. Richards wrote, ". . . one of the classics of systems or science of computing. I recommend it to all; it will cause both scientists and non-scientists to examine their world and their thinking. This book will appear on my reading table at regular intervals, and one day I hope to update to the golden anniversary edition." He continues, "I've found myself returning to An Introduction to General Systems Thinking again and again in the twenty-plus years since I first stumbled across it. I know no better spark to revive a mind that's stuck in dead-end thinking than to open this book, dive into one of Gerald Weinberg's wonderful open-ended questions, and rediscover how one looks at the world."

In sum, another reviewer called this book, "a quiet little masterpiece showing all of us how we can deal with the big, bad world in a friendly, humourous, courageous, and empowered way."

About the Author

Gerald M. Weinberg
Gerald M. Weinberg

I've always been interested in helping smart people be happy and productive. To that end, I've published books on human behavior, including Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, The Psychology of Computer Programming, Perfect Software and Other Fallacies, and an Introduction to General Systems Thinking. I've also written books on leadership including Becoming a Technical Leader, The Secrets of Consulting (Foreword by Virginia Satir), More Secrets of Consulting, and the nine-volume Quality Software series.

I try to incorporate my knowledge of science, engineering, and human behavior into all of my writing and consulting work (with writers, hi-tech researchers, software engineers, and people whose life-situation could require the use of a service dog). I write novels about such people, including The Aremac Project, Aremac Power, Jigglers, First Stringers, Second Stringers, The Hands of God, Freshman Murders, Where There's a Will There's a Murder, Earth's Endless Effort, and Mistress of Molecules—all about how my brilliant protagonists produce quality work and learn to be happy. My books that are not yet on Leanpub may be found as eBooks at <>; on Amazon at; and at Barnes and Noble bookstore:

Early in my career, I was the architect for the Project Mercury's space tracking network and designer of the world's first multiprogrammed operating system. I won the Warnier Prize, the Stevens Award, and the first Software Testing Professionals' Luminary Award, all for my writing on software quality. I was also elected a charter member of the Computing Hall of Fame in San Diego and chosen for the University of Nebraska Hall of Fame.

But the "award" I'm most proud of is the book, The Gift of Time (Fiona Charles, ed.) written by my student and readers for my 75th birthday. Their stories make me feel that I've been at least partially successful at helping smart people be happy.

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Table of Contents

  • Preface to the Silver Anniversary Edition
  • Original Preface
  • How To Use This Book
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. The Problem
    • The Complexity of the World
    • Mechanism and Mechanics
    • The Square Law of Computation
    • The Simplification of Science and the Science of Simplification
    • Statistical Mechanics and the Law of Large Numbers
    • The Law of Medium Numbers
  • Chapter 2. The Approach
    • Organism, Analogy, and Vitalism
    • The Scientist and Her Categories
    • The Main Article of General Systems Faith
    • The Nature of General Systems Laws
    • Varieties of Systems Thinking
  • Chapter 3. System and Illusion
    • A System Is a Way of Looking at the World
    • A System Is a Set
    • Observers and Observations
    • The Principle of Indifference
  • Chapter 4. Interpreting Observations
    • States
    • The Eye-Brain Law
    • The Generalized Thermodynamic Law
    • Functional Notation and Reductionist Thought
    • Incompleteness and Overcompleteness
    • The Generalized Law of Complementarity
    • Archaeology
    • Micrometeorology
    • Physics
    • Biology and Chemistry
    • Philosophy and Biology
    • Language Training
    • Sky-watching
  • Chapter 5. Breaking Down Observations
    • The Metaphors of Science
    • Boundaries and Things
    • Qualities and the Principle of Invariance
    • Partitions
    • Reflexivity
    • Symmetry
    • Transitivity
    • The Strong Connection Law
  • Chapter 6. Describing Behavior
    • Simulation—The White Box
    • State Spaces
    • Time as a Standard of Behavior
    • Behavior in Open Systems
    • The Principle of Indeterminability
  • Chapter 7. Some Systems Questions
    • The Systems Triumvirate
    • Stability
    • Survival
    • Identity
    • Regulation and Adaptation
    • The Used Car Law
  • Notes
    • Chapter 1
    • Chapter 2
    • Chapter 3
    • Chapter 5
    • Chapter 6
    • Chapter 7
  • Appendix

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