Interview: The Systems View from Barry G. Silverman: A Systems Scientist

Interview: The Systems View from Barry G. Silverman: A Systems Scientist

Manuel Mora (Autonomous University of Aguascalientes, Mexico) and Miroljub Kljajic (University of Maribor, Slovenia)
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2010070105
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In this short article, we present an e-interview to a well-recognized system scientist Barry G. Silverman, who is Professor of Systems Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and Director of the Ackoff Collaboratory for Advancement of the Systems Approach (ACASA) in the same university. In this e-interview, Professor Silverman, teach us on the origins, and still applicability and need of the Systems Approach, but now focused on the present complex social systems. A Systems Approach must and can provide a white-box research approach and advance on the limitations of the reductionist black-box research approaches. Professor Silverman, also alert us on the scarcity of PhD academic programs covering these systems approaches and makes a call for continuing the “difficult missionary effort” of teaching and doing research on the Systems Approach .
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Barry G. Silverman is Professor of Systems Science and Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania where he is also Director of the Ackoff Collaboratory for Advancement of the Systems Approach (ACASA). He holds the BSE ('75), MSE ('77) and PhD (also '77) all from the University of Pennsylvania. The focus of his research has largely been on aesthetic and cognitive engineering of game-theoretic software agents that can help humans improve their learning, performance, and systems thinking in task-environments. Barry is the author of over 130 articles, 12 books/proceedings, 100 technical reports, 7 copyrighted software systems, a boardgame, several research and teaching excellence awards, and is a Fellow of IEEE, AAAS, and the Washington Acad. of Science.

This interview offers systems researchers and practitioners a conceptual enrichment on the foundations, origin and modern relevance of the Systems Approach, from a Social System Science side. We thank Professor Silverman his willingness for this interview, which continues as follows:

  • Q1. IJITSA:To start, we would like to know your conceptualizations for the terms Systems Approach, Systems Thinking or Systems Paradigm ? Are the same but are used differently in the literature?

  • Professor Silverman:

Systems thinking is quite old – probably dating back before the Egyptian pyramids. The ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had to be systems thinkers. Their governments, projects, and armies, among other things, were products of big picture thinkers. The Athenians and Romans, in particular, invented systems of governance (i.e. Republics) that fed off of increasing individual freedoms. The invention of permitting individuals to strive for their own goals, to be purposeful, led to citizens wanting to protect the collective. A remarkable feedback cycle. The Greeks applied it to their own citizens, while the Romans used it to enfranchise an ever-widening circle.

Formalisms like the Systems Paradigm, theory, and approach are much newer, and most versions are traceable to the work of a number of notable post-industrial revolution era scientists in the 1900s. I see these concepts a bit like worldview, design, and methodology, respectively. Specifically, I tend to see the Systems Paradigm as all-important and in contrast to the Scientific Method. Synthetic vs. reductive. Within the systems paradigm, however, there are a number of methods or approaches – design inquiry approaches, soft systems methodology, mess formulation, systems engineering, and so on. There is no one agreed upon standard about how to conduct investigations and problem solving within the Paradigm.

  • Q2. IJITSA:Based in his extensive research career and as a key system thinker, could explain us why is still useful the Systems Approach as a scientific methodology and paradigm in the modern world (e.g. for the everyday more complex research situations than ever in the past based on Bar-Yam’s ideas on complexity) ?

  • Professor Silverman:

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