Systems Theory in Anthropology is an interdisciplinary, non-representative, non-referential, and non-Cartesian approach that brings together natural and social sciences to understand society in its complexity. The basic idea of a system theory in social science is to solve the classical problem of duality; mind-body, subject-object, form-content, signifier-signified, and structure-agency. System theory, therefore, suggests that instead of creating closed categories into binaries (subject-object); the system should stay open so as to allow free flow of process and interactions. In this way the binaries are dissolved.
Complex systems in nature—for example, ecosystems—involve a dynamic interaction of many variables (e.g. animals, plants, insects and bacteria; predators and prey; climate, the seasons and the weather, etc.) These interactions can adapt to changing conditions but maintain a balance both between the various parts and as a whole; this balance is maintained through homeostasis.
Human societies are complex systems, as it were, human ecosystems. Early humans, as hunter-gatherers, recognized and worked within the parameters of the complex systems in nature and their lives were circumscribed by the realities of nature. But they couldn't explain complex systems. Only in recent centuries did the need arise to define complex systems scientifically.
Complex systems theories first developed in math in the late 19th century, then in biology in the 1920s to explain ecosystems, then to deal with artificial intelligence (cybernetics), etc.
Anthropologist, Gregory Bateson is the most influential and earliest founder of system theory in social sciences. In the 1940s, as a result of the Macy conferences, he immediately recognized its application to human societies with their many variables and the flexible but sustainable balance that they maintain. Bateson describes system as “any unit containing feedback structure and therefore competent to process information.” Thus an open system allows interaction between concepts and materiality or subject and the environment or abstract and real. In natural science, systems theory has been a widely used approach. Austrian biologist, Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy, developed the idea of the General Systems Theory (GST). The GST is a multidisciplinary approach of system analysis. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari are the two postmodern thinkers who advocate systems theory approach in social sciences.
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... of creating new information, information itself, or creating existence itself and an information system such as a cognitive system into existence from a position of infinitely knowing, becomes a self-refuting ... Worse yet, if information science and theory are correct, the inertia of information itself(energy) would likely be required to be first cause to which could then support a cognitive system ... create the following into existence without requiring them itself consciousness, cognitive systems, sensory systems, information, or even existence itself ...
Famous quotes containing the words anthropology, systems and/or theory:
“I am not a literary man.... I am a man of science, and I am interested in that branch of Anthropology which deals with the history of human speech.”
—J.A.H. (James Augustus Henry)
“We have done scant justice to the reasonableness of cannibalism. There are in fact so many and such excellent motives possible to it that mankind has never been able to fit all of them into one universal scheme, and has accordingly contrived various diverse and contradictory systems the better to display its virtues.”
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“Everything to which we concede existence is a posit from the standpoint of a description of the theory-building process, and simultaneously real from the standpoint of the theory that is being built. Nor let us look down on the standpoint of the theory as make-believe; for we can never do better than occupy the standpoint of some theory or other, the best we can muster at the time.”
—Willard Van Orman Quine (b. 1908)