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Systems evolution: the conceptual framework and a formal model

Gao, S. (1992). Systems evolution: the conceptual framework and a formal model. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


This research addresses to some of the fundamental problems in systems science.T he aim of this study is to: (1) provide a general conceptual framework for systems evolution; (2) develop a formal model for evolving systems based on dynamical systems theory; (3) analyse the evolving behaviour of various systems by using the formal model so far developed. First of all, it is argued that a system, which can be recognized by an observer as a system, is characterised by some emergent properties at a certain level of discourse. These properties are the results of the interactions between the system as components but not reducible to the individual or summative properties of those components. Any system is such an emergent and organized whole, and this whole can be defined and described as an emergent attractor. To maintain the wholeness in a changing environment, an open system may undergo radical changes both in its structure and function. The process of change is what is called of systems evolution. On reviewing the existing theories of self-organization, such as "Theory of Dissipative Structure", "Synergetics", "Hypercycle", "Cellular Automata", "Random Boolean Network" et al., a general conceptual framework for systems evolution has been outlined and it is based on the concept of emergent attractor for open systems. The emphasis is placed on the structural aspect of the process of change. Modem mathematical dynamical systems theory, with the study of nonlinear dynamics as its core, can provide (a) the concept of "attractor" to describe a system as an organized whole; (b) simple geometrical models of complex behaviour, (c) a complete taxonomy of attractors and bifurcation patterns; (d) a mathematical rationale for the explanations of evolutionary processes. Based on this belief, a formal model of evolving systems has been developed by using the language of mathematical dynamical systems theory (DST). Attractors and emergent attractors are formally defined. It is argued that the state of any systems can be described by one of the four fundamental types of attractors ( i. e. point attractor, periodic attractor, quasiperiodic attractor, chaotic attractor) at a certain level. The evolving behaviour of open systems can be analyzed by looking at the loss of structural stability in the systems. For a full analysis of systems evolution, the emphasis is put on the nonlinear inner dynamics which governs evolving systems. In trying to apply this conceptual framework and formal model, the evolving behaviour of various systems at different levels have been discussed. Among them are Benard cells in hydrodynamics, Brusselator in chemical systems, replicator systems in biology (hypercycle), predator-prey-food systems in ecology, and artificial neural networks. The complex dynamical behaviour of these systems, like the existence of various types of attractors and the occurrences of bifurcation when the environment changes, have been discussed. In most of the examples, the results in previous studies are cited directly and they are only re-interpreted by using the conceptual framework and the formal model developed in this research. In the study of artificial neural networks, a simple cellular automata network with only three neurons has been constructed and the activation dynamics has been analysed according to the formal model. Different attractors representing different dynamical behaviour of this network have been identified (point, periodic, quasiperiodic, and chaotic attractor). Similar discussions have been applied to a coupled Wilson-Cowan net. It is believed that the study of systems evolution is one of those attempts to bring systems science out of its primitive stage in which it ought not to be.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Departments: City, University of London (-2022) > School of Arts & Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences
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