An introduction to systems theory
Though the field has no precise boundaries, systems theory as applied in psychology could be understood as consisting of three main areas of study: ‘general’ systems theory, cybernetics (including information theory), and applied fields of systems theory (such as systems therapy). This thesis is primarily concerned with theoretical underpinnings; thus, only concepts from the first two broad fields are reviewed next. These concepts focus on the similarity of systems, systems epistemology, the self-organisation of systems, and cybernetics and the self-regulation of systems.
Similarity in systems
Von Bertalanffy (1969/2009) drew attention to a growth of activities in a range of different sciences that seemed to have a common trajectory. He noted firstly that scientists in various fields including physics, biology, engineering, economics, and sociology were finding problems (and solutions to those problems) that bore remarkable resemblance to one another. For example, he demonstrated that the logistic curve (see Figure 1 below) shows the same answer for two different questions:
“In Chemistry, this is the curve of an autocatalytical reaction, i.e., a reaction, in which the reaction product obtained accelerates its own production. In sociology, it is the law of Verhulst (1838) describing the growth of human populations with limited resources. … In this sense such laws are ‘a priori,’ independent from their physical, chemical, biological, sociological, etc., interpretation. In other words, this shows the existence of a general system theory which deals with the formal characteristics of systems.” (von Bertalanffy, 1969/2009, p. 62-63)
There are many other phenomena that follow the pattern of a logistic curve. Further, the logistic curve is just one pattern; in the same chapter, von Bertalanffy (1969/2009) described other patterns, such as the exponential function or competitive relation; charted stability and fluctuation in patterns such as ‘loop’, ‘node’, or ‘cycle’; and considered principles such as summativity, segregation, and centralisation (some of these ideas are defined and developed at later stages in this thesis). All of these represent patterns of behaviour of a wide variety of different types of ‘systems’, which nonetheless have the same pattern.
The explanation put forward by von Bertalanffy (1969/2009) for this similarity is that all of these phenomena involve processes that are made up of a number of components that interact with one another in particular kinds of relationship; this is in fact the definition of a system, as Weiss stated (in Koestler & Smythies, 1969):
“… a rather circumscribed complex of relatively bounded phenomena which, within close bounds, retains a relatively stationary pattern of structure in space or of sequential configurations in time, in spite of a high degree of variability in the details of distribution and inter-relations among its constituent units of lower order.” (p. 11)
The fundamental assumption of systems theory is that systems – regardless of what units they are composed of – have characteristics that are imposed by the characteristics of the system; these characteristics include the number of units, their relative complexity and degree of heterogeneity (or lack thereof), the nature of relations between them, and any environmental limitations imposed on them. The application of this fundamental assumption to various fields represents the recognition that a given phenomenon can be constituted by (or part of) a systemic process that may be similar to other systems. This recognition allows for some measure of explanation and prediction of a phenomenon (von Bertalanffy, 1969/2009).
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
1.2 Problem Statement .
1.4 Aim of the study
1.5 The role of systems theory in a coherent formulation of the organisation of energic mechanisms
1.6 Research Question
1.8 Findings: a systems theory reformulation of psychic energy within psychoanalysis
1.9 Outline of Remaining Chapters
CHAPTER 2: The Development of the Concept of Psychic Energy within Psychoanalysis
2.1 Studies in Hysteria
2.2 The Project for a Scientific Psychology
2.3 ‘Chapter VII: The Interpretation of Dreams’
2.4 ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’
2.5 Summary of Critical Remarks
2.6 Further Developments in Psychoanalysi
2.7 The importance of the theory of energic regulation within Psychoanalysis
CHAPTER 3: Critiques of Freud’s Energic Concepts
3.3 Accuracy of assumptions and propositions
3.4 Links to observations
CHAPTER 4: Systems theory as a reformulation of psychic energy
4.1 The potential of systems theory to strengthen weaknesses in psychoanalytic theory
4.2 An introduction to systems theory
4.3 Systems theory in the present .
CHAPTER 5: A Systemic reformulation of the energic concept in Freud’s theory
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Principles of Organisation of Psychic Energy within Psychoanalysis: a Systems Theory Perspective