Perspectives on General System Theory
by Ludwig von Bertalanffy
New York: George Braziller, 1975
This unique selection of essays, from the Founder of General Systems Theory, spanning four decades, reveals a breadth of vision coupled with penetrating logic and based upon solid technical and experimental competence.
It is only the truly great scientist who can transcend his field, having mastered its techniques and theories, and take in broader horizons. Modern science is technical in nature and specialized in form. Most men never complete the Herculean task of mastering the techniques of their discipline and keeping up with the flow of specialized literature. Only the exceptionally great mind can rise above this – men such as Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Dobzhansky, Piaget, Maslow. Von Bertalanffy is of their number. These men turn to philosophy not as an escape from rigor and detail, but as a means of assessing the meaning and significance of what they have done and are trying to do. It is from such men that we receive more than theories; we are given perspectives, or paradigms.
In this volume, the reader will find evidence not only for judging for himself what General System Theory is in the eyes of its originator, but also a link to the mental processes which led to its formulation. He will be taken on an intellectual voyage of breathtaking scope – from the mysticism of Nicholas of Cusa to the spheres of art, philosophy, theories of culture, and the more prosaic realms of contemporary biology and medicine. A man who can write on a medieval mystic as well as on modern transport equations in cell biology is a rarity today; and the man who can bring such wide-ranging topics into the focus of a single master-concept that illuminates their commonalities without forcing them into the Procrustean bed of some armchair philosophy is truly unique. Such a man was von Bertalanffy.