Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems. A system is a cohesive group of interrelated and interdependent parts which can be natural or human-made. Every system is bounded by space and time, influenced by its environment, defined by its structure and purpose, and expressed through its functioning. A system may be more than the sum of its parts if it expresses synergy or emergent behavior.
The term “general systems theory” originates from Bertalanffy’s general systems theory (GST). His ideas were adopted by others including Kenneth E. Boulding, William Ross Ashby and Anatol Rapoport working in mathematics, psychology, biology, game theory, and social network analysis.
Changing one part of a system may affect other parts or the whole system. It may be possible to predict these changes in patterns of behavior. For systems that learn and adapt, the growth and the degree of adaptation depend upon how well the system is engaged with its environment. Some systems support other systems, maintaining the other system to prevent failure. The goals of systems theory are to model a system’s dynamics, constraints, conditions, and to elucidate principles (such as purpose, measure, methods, tools) that can be discerned and applied to other systems at every level of nesting, and in a wide range of fields for achieving optimized equifinality.
General systems theory is about developing broadly applicable concepts and principles, as opposed to concepts and principles specific to one domain of knowledge. It distinguishes dynamic or active systems from static or passive systems. Active systems are activity structures or components that interact in behaviours and processes. Passive systems are structures and components that are being processed. For example, a program is passive when it is a disc file and active when it runs in memory. The field is related to systems thinking, machine logic, and systems engineering.