You may have seen books which discuss “theories of everything” such as superstring theory, which knits together various theories of physics and the universe. This kind of theory relates to Einstein’s General Relativity.
The book I am recommending to you today is not about theory at that level, it’s about theory at a much higher, more integrated and holistic level. The field is called “general systems theory” and first caught my attention while in college in the 1970s. Thinkers like Ludwig von Bertalanffy and economist Kenneth Boulding were among the leading explorers.
Let me give you a taste of what I am talking about. Say we know that atoms and their components are the building blocks of matter. And that cents are the building blocks of economics. But what if ments are the building blocks of our mental processes, and emotes are the building blocks of our emotional systems? What if all the systems we see, from the systems of ants to the systems of cities, from the systems of space flight to the systems of accounting, are all just various versions of more general systems?
If nothing else, you should at least now understand why this is called “general systems theory.”
It reflects the efforts of thinkers to knit everything together, to see broad patterns in the way the world works and is structured. It is a world of hierarchies, dynamics, entropy, and feedback systems.
As a student I could not help but see parallels between physics and economics. Aren’t there concepts in business which parallel ideas like inertia, momentum, and acceleration in physics? Mightn’t the formulas and structures that work in the sciences have applicability in economics? At minimum, wouldn’t it be worth the effort to take a look and see? Rather than staying in the silos that academia is famous for? Who knows whether all this would lead to useful findings, although I suspect so.
If this line of thinking at least intrigues you, then you should get the one book that summarizes all the thinking and ideas of general systems theory. That book is General Systems Theory: Problems Perspectives Practice by Lars Skyttner. The book was published in 2005 by the very innovative Singapore-based scientific publisher World Scientific.
If you are a science jock or a hardcore geek, I have to forewarn you that this book is not packed cover to cover with formulas.  This is a book full of ideas and is accessible to any intelligent reader. It is full of great diagrams and tables comparing the ideas of various thinkers. If this book does not inspire you to some innovative thinking of your own, I don’t know what book would. It’s a gold mine, it’s fun to read, and it’s provocative to your head.




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