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Freedom and Constraint in a Metasystem Transition

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A metasystem transition is fundamentally a process of systems formation. A metasystem transition results in the creation of a new system, and thus new entities which are stable at a higher level of analysis.

Following the metasystem transition the entities (now subsystems) are under the control of the new system. The behavior of the whole is constrained by the parts (a "reductionistic" view), but the behavior of the parts is at the same time constrained by the whole (a "holistic" view). The control of the metasystem decreases the freedom of the subsystems: they are constrained, perhaps not entirely, by the metasystem into certain pathways of activity (see cite{CAD90}).

The new systemic level has its own attributes, and its own variability. Thus the total freedom of the overall metasystem now becomes split into two: that of the parts and that of the whole. How that freedom is distributed is a crucial question, and has some extremes. While the freedom of the subsystems is decreased, the overall freedom and adaptivity of the overall system may increases.

We can identify one limit as an isolated system, in particular an isolated thermodynamic system. As is well known cite{ROW82}, under these conditions the thermodynamic system goes to equilibrium, and the macroscopic properties of the metasystem (pressure, temperature) become completely stable, and show no variation. Simultaneously, according to the second law, the statistical entropy, and thus the variation, of the subsystems (the molecular components) is maximized. Thus under these conditions the entire freedom of the system is "pushed down" to the components: maximal stability of the whole is traded for maximal instability of the parts.

The converse case where the parts become completely constrained occurs in the case of a machine. The structure of a machine constrains its parts along deterministic pathways cite{ASR56}.

Copyright© 1992 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Jan 1992


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