What are the synergies between Systems Thinking (ST) and Process Thinking (PT)? Are ST and PT in conflict or they can enhance each other?
Kent Palmer • I do not believe that a process is a kind of a system, but that processes are conceptually dual to systems, just as flow is perceptually dual to a gestalt. What we have to try to grasp is the points that Heidegger makes in Being and Time concerning the difference between the present-at-hand and ready-to-hand. Systems are gestalt and thus underly the present-at-hand. Processes are flows and thus underly the ready-to-hand. Merleau-Ponty translates Being and Time into psychological terms saying that Present-at-hand is Pointing and Ready-to-hand is grasping. However, with respect to gestalt and flow we are not talking about either psychological modalities or modalities of Being but rather percepts and concepts. But basically it is the same kind of difference in a different realm. Gestalts were added to Husserl’s phenomenology by Gurwitsch. So at the beginning Phenomenology only had form and content. But it was recognized in the second generation of phenomenologists that gestalts were important in phenomenology of perception. But there is a prejudice against the Heraclitian position that everything is flux, and the position of Parmenides is the fundamental approach of most of the philosophers in the Western tradition, so flows were neglected. Thus we don not see much about flows in the literature and certainly the duality between flows and gestalts is not readily apparent in the literature. So there is a duality present where we emphasize gestalts over flows in the tradition, just like we emphasize sets over masses (count over non-count). But in Systems Engineering this imbalance in the perspective of our tradition toward phenomena causes real problems because it makes our view of the phenomena lopsided. What we need is a more balanced view, and I think there is a real opportunity to bridge this gap in Systems Engineering/Software Engineering and the Social Sciences. This is because Development is probably some of the most complex social phenomena around, and it is a perfect laboratory for testing out social theories. So if Systems and Software Engineers became aware of the sophisticated theories that already exist, and started using them to think about the social aspects of their work, then we would not be constantly reinventing social science, and we could leverages off of the work already done over the last century in these other disciplines and thus make our own approach to our own discipline more sophisticated. But also we could help balance the perspectives that are imbalanced in the social sciences at the same time and thus provide a service to the social sciences not only by producing data they could use but also improving their theories.