UCSB ENVS 106 - Lecture 08 Thinking In Systems Chapter 1_POST (28 pages)

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Lecture 08 Thinking In Systems Chapter 1_POST



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Donella Meadows Thinking in Systems Sim City 1991 City Simulation Game on the Super Nintendo Build a city design street layouts provide services generate tax revenue and build a wealthy thriving city Residential blocks Commercial blocks Industrial blocks Special Buildings A Simple Example from the Game Sim City The residential commercial and industrial blocks self fill up with different types of buildings depending on various conditions surrounding the block Small and grungy homes red circle are undesirable in the game A simple minded solution would be to delete the home and start from scratch Start from a clean fresh residential plot and you ll get rid of the crappy home Well not really the crappy homes just spring back up From a systems thinking perspective you need to think about the structure around the residential plot that is leading to crappy homes to spring up Property values crime levels desirability access to education etc These systemic factors play a much stronger role in determining the houses that appear in residential housing blocks Aristotle 384 322 B C E One of the Greatest Ancient Philosophers According to Quentin the greatest of that time period Physical theory was the foundation of European and Middle Eastern science from his day through the middle ages Eventually many of his theories were overthrown during the scientific revolution BUT his theory of the four causes may be efficient cause is most clearly linked to how relevant to systems The thinking we think of linear causation today But for Aristotle so much more was important to thinking Formal Cause about why something is the case Material Cause Efficient Cause Final Cause purpose Reductionism In rejecting much of Aristotle s admittedly flawed physics his approach to causation was also in large part jettisoned by the scientific revolution Reducing to the single cause Focus on agent action rather than other conditions focus on the efficient cause Focus on timewise linearity Linear Reductionist Causation A Causes B B Causes C We Engage in Some System Thinking Already Because of feedback delays within complex systems by the time a problem becomes apparent it may be unnecessarily difficult to solve A stitch in time saves nine According to the competitive exclusion principle if a reinforcing feedback loop rewards the winner of a competition with the means to win further competitions the result will be the elimination of all but a few competitors The rich get richer and the poor get poorer A diverse system with multiple pathways and redundancies is more stable and less vulnerable to external shock than a uniform system with little diversity Don t put all your eggs in one basket While we do have a general sense of systems thinking we must focus more precisely on its structure in order to properly apply it Big Problems are Systems Problems Hunger poverty environmental degradation economic instability unemployment chronic disease drug addiction and war for example persist in spite of the analytical ability and technical brilliance that have been directed toward eradicating them No one deliberately creates those problems no but they persist nonetheless one wants them to persist Don t take Meadows to deny that there is any sense of personal responsibility for many social ills However Meadows thinks that there are almost always systemic factors influencing many outcomes and to ignore them in lieu of individuals make their own choices does not display an understanding of systemic factors at play in social and environmental phenomena That is because they are intrinsically systems problems undesirable behaviors characteristic of the system structures that produce them They will yield only as we reclaim our intuition stop casting blame see the system as the source of its own problems and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it System Definition A system is an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something Example Football Team Elements players coach field ball Interconnections rules of the game coach s strategy player communications laws of physics Purpose Function win games or have fun or get exercise or make money Losing and Gaining System ness Death of an Organism Interconnections no longer hold Parts deteriorate Organism function no longer persists Organism itself may still be a part of a larger ecosystem Large Scale Social Disruption First Day of College New parts come together freshmen RA s Very few interconnections but rapidly build Function Pattern is indeterminate for some time but within a few weeks begins to emerge System Behaviors Change Adaptation Responsivity to events Goal seeking Self repair over a narrow or broad range of disruptions Survival oriented behavior Self organizing System Elements Tangible Elements Intangible Elements System Interconnections Physical flows and chemical reactions Information flows and requirements System Function Hard to discern Clearly stated goals may be useful to know the function of human systems but not always Observation of behavior is a way to infer function Must exhibit a particular pattern of means end behavior Example A frog turns left and catches a fly then turns right and catches a fly and turns around an catches a fly The most clear function here is the catching of flies not turning left right and around Example Government food policy Here it seems that the stated government function for nutrition and public health is at odds with its behavior the way it actually supports different food suppliers In this regard it s not entirely obvious that the government s stated function is in fact its actual function http economix blogs nytimes com 2010 03 09 why a big mac costs less than a salad r 0 Unintended Consequences Drug Addiction and Crime in Society Desperate people who want quick relief from psychological pain Farmers dealers and bankers who want to earn money Pushers who are less bound by civil law than are the police who oppose them Governments that make harmful substances illegal and use police power to interdict them Wealthy people living in close proximity to poor people Nonaddicts who are more interested in protecting themselves than in encouraging Most people think of drug addiction as a problem for individuals While Meadows acknowledges this she lists above a number of systemic factors that recovery of addicts contribute to the problem from a supply side and a demand side and from an enforcement side As an


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