A system is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.
The term system may also refer to a set of rules that governs structure and/or behavior. Alternatively, and usually in the context of complex social systems, the term is used to describe the set of rules that govern structure and/or behavior.
"System" means "something to look at". You must have a very high visual gradient to have systematization. In philosophy, before Descartes, there was no "system". Plato had no "system". Aristotle had no "system".
In the 19th century the French physicist Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, who studied thermodynamics, pioneered the development of the concept of a "system" in the natural sciences. In 1824 he studied the system which he called the working substance (typically a body of water vapor) in steam engines, in regards to the system's ability to do work when heat is applied to it. The working substance could be put in contact with either a boiler, a cold reservoir (a stream of cold water), or a piston (to which the working body could do work by pushing on it). In 1850, the German physicist Rudolf Clausius generalized this picture to include the concept of the surroundings and began to use the term "working body" when referring to the system.
The biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972) became one of the pioneers of the general systems theory. In 1945 he introduced models, principles, and laws that apply to generalized systems or their subclasses, irrespective of their particular kind, the nature of their component elements, and the relation or 'forces' between them.
Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) and Ross Ashby (1903-1972), who pioneered the use of mathematics to study systems, carried out significant development in the concept of a system.
Systems theory views the world as a complex system of interconnected parts. We scope a system by defining its boundary; this means choosing which entities are inside the system and which are outside – part of the environment. We then make simplified representations (models) of the system in order to understand it and to predict or impact its future behavior. These models may define the structure and/or the behavior of the system.
Natural and human-made systems
There are natural and human-made (designed) systems. Natural systems may not have an apparent objective but their outputs can be interpreted as purposes. Human-made systems are made with purposes that are achieved by the delivery of outputs. Their parts must be related; they must be “designed to work as a coherent entity” – else they would be two or more distinct systems.
Open systems have input and output flows, representing exchanges of matter, energy or information with their surroundings.
An open system exchanges matter and energy with its surroundings. Most systems are open systems; like a car, coffeemaker, or computer. A closed system exchanges energy, but not matter, with its environment; like Earth or the project Biosphere2 or 3. An isolated system exchanges neither matter nor energy with its environment. A theoretical example of such system is the Universe.
Process and transformation process
An open system can also be viewed as a bounded transformation process, that is, a black box that is a process or collection of processes that transforms inputs into outputs. Inputs are consumed; outputs are produced. The concept of input and output here is very broad. E.g., an output of a passenger ship is the movement of people from departure to destination.
A subsystem is a set of elements, which is a system itself, and a component of a larger system.
Systems that are purposed by man inherently have a major flaw they must have a starting assumption(s) in which this starting assumption(s) is used to build further knowledge upon. This starting assumption(s) is not inherently bad, but it is used as the foundation of the system and as it is assumed to be true, and not definitively so then the system is not as structurally sound as perceived to be. For example, in Geometry (a subsystem of Math) this is highly evident when one goes through the process of taking theorems and extrapolates proofs from those set theorems.
In offering these more global definitions, the author maintains that it is important not to confuse one for the other. The theorist explains that natural systems include sub-atomic systems, living systems, the solar system, the galactic system and the Universe. Designed systems are our creations, our physical structures, hybrid systems which include natural and designed systems, and our conceptual knowledge. The human element of organization and activities are emphasized with their relevant abstract systems and representations. A key consideration in making distinctions among various types of systems is to determine how much freedom the system has to select purpose, goals, methods, tools, etc. and how widely is the freedom to select itself distributed (or concentrated) in the system.
George J. Klir maintains that no "classification is complete and perfect for all purposes," and defines systems in terms of abstract, real, and conceptualphysical systems, bounded and unbounded systems, discrete to continuous, pulse to hybrid systems, etc. The interaction between systems and their environments are categorized in terms of relatively closed, and open systems. It seems most unlikely that an absolutely closed system can exist or, if it did, that it could be known by us. Important distinctions have also been made between hard and soft systems. Hard systems are technical in nature and amenable to methods such as systems engineering, operations research and quantitative systems analysis. Soft systems involve people and organisations and are commonly associated with concepts developed by Peter Checkland and Brian Wilson through Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) involving methods such as action research and emphasizing participatory designs. Where hard systems might be identified as more "scientific," the distinction between them is actually often hard to define.
A cultural system may be defined as the interaction of different elements of culture. While a cultural system is quite different from a social system, sometimes both systems together are referred to as the sociocultural system. A major concern in the social sciences is the problem of order.
Systems modeling is generally a basic principle in engineering and in social sciences. The system is the representation of the entities under concern. Hence inclusion to or exclusion from system context is dependent of the intention of the modeler.
No model of a system will include all features of the real system of concern, and no model of a system must include all entities belonging to a real system of concern.
In engineering and physics, a physical system is the portion of the universe that is being studied (of which a thermodynamic system is one major example). Engineering also has the concept of a system that refers to all of the parts and interactions between parts of a complex project. Systems engineering refers to the branch of engineering that studies how this type of system should be planned, designed, implemented, built, and maintained.
Systems in social and cognitive sciences and management research
Social and cognitive sciences recognize systems in human person models and in human societies. They include human brain functions and human mental processes as well as normative ethics systems and social/cultural behavioral patterns.
Systems thinking is a style of thinking/reasoning and problem solving. It starts from the recognition of system properties in a given problem. It can be a leadership competency. Some people can think globally while acting locally. Such people consider the potential consequences of their decisions on other parts of larger systems. This is also a basis of systemic coaching in psychology.
In 1988, military strategist, John A. Warden III introduced his Five Ring System model in his book, The Air Campaign contending that any complex system could be broken down into five concentric rings. Each ring—Leadership, Processes, Infrastructure, Population and Action Units—could be used to isolate key elements of any system that needed change. The model was used effectively by Air Force planners in the First Gulf War. In the late 1990s, Warden applied this five ring model to business strategy.