Systemics: The Most Basic Science

Systemics is the branch of science that addresses holistic systems (Watson, Schwartz & Russek, 1998). Wholes need to be conceptualized and studied as systems because they are not merely the sum of their parts. Because neutrons, electrons, and protons do not add up to living systems—even the simplist ones—we can know everything there is to know about fundamental particles, yet not know anything about systems that are composed of those particles. Moreover, since the systems studied in science are holistic, Systemics is the root scientific discipline, underpinning physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and all the other branches of science. It is also the root of mathematics because each mathematical system is holistic.

Systemics is foundational to all other sciences because it addresses the topic that is fundamental to all the operations of the universe: organization per se. The other sciences consider organization to a precondition for study, and therefore don't consider it a subject of study. For instance, physicists use the organization inherent in mathematics to describe the behavior of organized physical systems. This method has been very successful in describing simple, material systems, but it has not provided predictive models for biology, psychology, or parapsychology.

The apparent disparity between living and non-living systems prompted thinkers through the centuries to entertain vitalist theories centered on the idea that different laws govern the two types of systems. A few schools of thought implicitly presuppose that even more special laws apply to human beings. Systemics, in contrast, presupposes that the same laws apply to all natural systems, living or not.

Systemics represents a continuation of the historical development of our understanding of the laws of nature over the last three centuries. In the 17th century, Newton laid the foundation of classical mechanics with the concept of mass—which he defined as the constant of proportionality between velocity and momentum. Newton also established the idea that physics describes, but does not explain, phenomena. Yet the concept of mass was an ontologically fundamental explanation: A nonmaterial, but real (i.e., conserved), quantity explains certain seemingly disparate behaviors and properties of material systems. Thus momentum, weight, gravity, inertia, force, planetary motion, action-reaction, and action at a distance could be conceptualized as elements of a universal mechanical system. This concept was extremely influential: For a century and a half, mass and force were considered the fundamental quantities underlying the operations of the universe.

Notice that mass is a quantity, not a substance or entity. This notion was a profound deviation from 17th century scientific thinking. At that time, wood was believed to be a combination of ashes and a material substance, phlogiston, which was liberated with burning. Mind, too, was believed to be an entity, albeit a nonmaterial one—a belief that formed the basis of Descartes's mind-body duality. Contemporary philosophy continues to center its debates about mind and body on this Cartesian premise—e.g., "dualism" or "monism"—even though scientific thought has progressed far beyond this notion.

The evolution of the meaning of energy illustrates the departure of scientific ideas from the strictly material premise. This term was used widely in the 18th and early 19th century to identify a material substance under the Caloric theory of heat. Because Carnot and Clausius, the originators of thermodynamics, conceptualized energy in this way, they mistakenly described laws that didn't apply to reality. For instance, Clausius was thinking of a material substance that moves when he characterized the entropy lawþthe second law of thermodynamics: "Heat cannot, of itself, move from a cold to a hot body." Metalinguistically, then, both the entropy law and the first law of thermodynamics (that energy is conserved) were nullities. Nevertheless, using updated concepts, thermodynamics remains a useful scientific tool.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the Caloric theory was replaced by the mechanical theory of heat; i.e., heat reflects the average velocity (hence, kinetic energy) of individual particles. Because the first law of thermodynamics was based on the false materialist premise, Helmholtz—who conceptualized energy as nonmaterial—is credited with discovering the conservation of energy. Energy—the capacity to perform work—thereafter became as central to scientific thinking as mass: Both are universal, fundamental, conserved, nonmaterial principles. Moreover, these nonmaterial principles interact profoundly with matter to account for the behavior of physical systems.

Traditionally, mass and energy have not been assigned to a named category. Because there are only two of them, it is easy enough to identify them simply as mass, energy, or mass/energy. Nevertheless, it is useful to categorize these quantities as "principles," corresponding to the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):

Principle: an origin, source; source of action. A fundamental source from which something proceeds; a primary element, force, or law which produces or determines particular results; the ultimate basis upon which the existence of something depends; cause, in the widest sense.

Categorizing mass and energy as principles identifies them as nonmaterial, universal, fundamental, conserved quantities. Moreover, establishing this category prepares us to anticipate additional principles. Indeed, I have postulated the existence of a third principle: enformy, the capacity to organize (Watson, 1993). Enformy is foundational to Systemics in the same way that mass is foundational to classical mechanics.

To understand enformy, it is helpful to first consider several aspects of the concept of entropy. Entropy introduced a new problem to science in the 19th century: irreversibility. Whereas the mathematical expressions of motion in classical mechanics are reversible in time, the results of the entropy law are irreversible. That's why Clausius noted, "Heat cannot, of itself, move from a cold to a hot body."

Later in the 19th century, instead of considering energy to be a substance, Maxwell conceptualized it as a mechanical process—the motion of particles. Correspondingly, he characterized entropy as the randomness of particle motion. To illustrate irreversibility based on this notion, he wrote: "The second law has the same degree of truth as the statement that, if you throw a tumblerful of water into the sea, you cannot get the same tumblerful of water out again."

We can think of the entropy law as describing what we can term the entropy principle: a universal, fundamental, conserved tendency toward irreversibly randomizing particles. In its extreme limit, the entropy principle is predicted to result in the "heat death" of the universe—a condition wherein chaos reigns. Yet, this prediction—indeed, the entropy law itself—ignores the existence of life, which expresses increasing nonrandomness. The simplist, most parsimonious way to account for life is to postulate that the irreversibility implied in the entropy law is countered by another principle that imposes nonrandomness on elements of nature. This principle is enformy—the universal, fundamental, conserved tendency toward increasing complexity.

A century ago, Maxwell contemplated a principle opposite to the entropy principle. He conceptualzed what has come to be known as "Maxwell's demon"—an intelligent being "whose faculties are so sharpened that he can follow every molecule in his course." The demon stands on one side of a partition between two chambers of gas. Using his sharp facilities, he finds faster moving molecules and opens a gate to allow them to move from one chamber to the other. The result of segregating high-energy (faster) particles from low-energy ones is a change of temperature of the gas: One chamber cools and the other warms. This energy gradient, in turn, could be used to produce useful work.

There was a problem with Maxwell's demon, however. As Szilard (1929) showed, the demon can't operate under laws of physics that inhere only mass and energy. Yet, Szilard considered the phenomenon of life in writing: "Presently, of course, we do not know whether we commit an error by not including the intervening man into the system and by disregarding his biological phenomena." This is a crucial observation because the disregarded biological phenomena are the keys to this issue: Enformy is necessary for Maxwell's demon to operate.

In the 20th century, three developments have contributed to our understanding of the holistic systems: relativity, quantum mechanics (QM), and information theory. In the last, Shannon (1950) showed that information, as expressed in the statistical distribution of letters in English text, was of the same mathematical form as the statistical expression of entropy. This discovery prompted Brillouin (1950) to ask if Maxwell's demon could use information to provide negentropy—Brillouin's term for the opposite of entropy. His answer was the same as Szilard's: It cannot. This is not surprising because, like Szilard, Brillouin considered energy, but not enformy—the principle underpinning the demon's biology.

Relativity is relevant to Systemics and information in two ways. First, Einstein conceptualized the spacetime continuum as real space, not merely a mathematical possibility—or fiction. While visiting with his friend, Paul Ehrenfest, Einstein explained why it is necessary to think beyond three-space where time is irreversible: "Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live" (Forsee, 1963). Second, relativity imposes the same limitation of velocity on information as it does to any other physical system: Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. That's because, as patterns in physical systems, information is physical.

The limitation of velocity of physical information propelled Einstein, Podalsky, and Rosen (1935) to question whether quantum mechanics can be considered complete. In describing what is commonly known as the "EPR phenomenon," they pointed out that the correlation of two particles, as predicted by quantum theory, is not time dependent, yet operates over any distance—an idea Einstein (1971) characterized as "spooky action at a distance." Yet, spooky or not, the EPR phenomenon is real—a fact that was demonstrated experimentally by Alain Aspect and his colleagues (1982).

In short, not only the EPR phenomenon, but many other discoveries of QM, are simply inexplicable in terms of conventional theories. That is, mathematical physics describes the behaviors of particles, but it does not explain them with an ontological theory. Bohm and Hiley (1993) cite four mysteries that illustrate the need for an ontological theory for QM: (1) QM describes statistical ensembles well, but does not adequately explain individual quantum processes such as the "collapse" of the wave function; (2) the EPR phenomenon is unexplained; (3) the 'wave-particle duality' of matter is unexplained; and (4) we cannot provide a "clear notion of what the reality of a quantum system could be."

Systemics provides the ontological theory of QM sought by Bohm and Hiley. In addition, it removes the spookiness, not only of the EPR phenomenon, but of many other phenomena currently considered paranormal, including self-awareness, perception, memory, curiosity, creativity, intuition, emotion, altered states, multiple personalities, precognition, telepathy, remote viewing, psychokinesis, psychic healing, psychometry, synchronicity phenomena, apparitions, out-of-body experiences, life per se, the evolution of species, quantum coherence, and the homing behavior of pigeons.

Notice that several of these phenomena belong to the category conventionally termed consciousness. This is signficant in view of the current heightened interest in that topic, especially with respect to theories that attempt to explain consciousness in terms of quantum mechanics. Systemics provides a broader perspective on the topic: Because all of the phenomena listed above are products of holistic systems, consciousness and QM are explained by the same theory.

The study of holistic systems has a very long history, of course, from Aristotle forward, yet its formal study is relatively new. Four basic aspects of Systemics were provided by the authors quoted below:


  1. J. C. Smuts (1926) who coined the term holism and established the transdisciplinary scope of Systemics:
    The whole-making, holistic tendency, or Holism, operating in and through particular wholes, is seen at all stages of existence.
  2. Koestler (1967) conceptualized the organization of wholes as hierarchies of holons (holarchies):
    Organisms and societies are multi-levelled hierarchies of semi-autonomous sub-wholes branching into sub-wholes of a lower order, and so on. The term 'holon' has been introduced to refer to these intermediary entities which, relative to their subordinates in the hierarchy, function as self-contained wholes; relative to their superordinates as dependent parts.
  3. Bertalanffy (1968) anticipated a general theory of systems based on the idea that "wholes are more than the sum of their parts." He also conceptualized the study of systems as fundamental to all scientific disciplines:
    [General systems theory's] subject matter is formulation of principles that are valid for `systems' in general, whatever the nature of their component elements and the relations or `forces' between them.
  4. Harman (1994) foresaw the development of Systemics in his concept of a "wholeness science" that includes the prevailing "separateness science" as a "limited domain." As evidence for the need for this branch of science, he listed six anomalous areas that are not explained by the prevailing paradigm, but would be addressed by a science of wholes: (1) the ultimate nature of things; (2) the self-organizing behavior of organisms; (3) consciousness and free will; (4) the concept of self; (5) nonlocal causality; and (6) altered states of consciousness.

The Theory of Enformed Systems (TES) (Watson, Schwartz & Russek, 1998) extends the foundation laid by the thinkers noted above, and thereby forms the foundation of Systemics. (Details of TES are found on A Comprehensive Theory of Consciousness: Enformy and Enformed Systems.) This is TES in a nutshell:


  1. A holistic system is the sum of its parts plus one essential component: a map in spacetime of the relationships among these parts.
  2. This map is an "organizing field" through which enformy organizes physical entities to correlate with the spatio-temporal nonrandomness inherent in this field.
  3. The organizing field itself possesses certain fundamental properties that establish and maintain the system's integrity.
  4. These properties, in turn, account for the fundamental aspects of all coherent systems:
    • For photons, they are expressed in wave/particle duality and superposition.
    • For living systems, they are expressed in self-awareness, perception, cognition, memory, and motor activity.
  5. The properties of the organizing fields also allow them to cohere in spacetime, creating nonlocal, atemporal interactions among collective systems:
    • For systems of photons, these interactions are expressed as quantum correlation.
    • For systems comprising collections of complex organisms, their expressions include telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, social bonding, and homing and migratory behaviors.

Enformy is the absolutely necessary conceptual foundation for Systemics, because enformy imposes organization on otherwise disorganized elements. In contrast, the traditional branches of science do not yet incorporate enformy. That's why biology describes life forms, but not life per se, and why Psychology describes behavior and thinking patterns, but lacks a theoretical foundation for mentality itself. The other key difference between Systemics and the prevailing sciences is that TES is a prephysical theory, where the term prephysical denotes levels of organization that are more fundamental than those of physical systems—i.e., systems comprising mass, energy, and matter. In the context of organizing physical systems in time, it means "prior to" or "pre-existing" those systems.

Because TES is prephysical, many of its implications are opposite to those implied by the materialistic premise. Notable among these differences are the notions of emergence and emergent properties. Under the materialist set of implications, for instance, the properties attributed to consciousness (e.g., self-awareness, perception, cognition, etc.) are believed to somehow emerge from increasingly complex material—even though the materialist premise does not predict them. In contrast, TES implies that material systems emerge from nonmaterial fields of nonrandomness that are sustained by enformy.

In sum, Systemics provides, not only the ontological theory of QM sought by Bohm and Hiley, but a theory of life per se and all the elements of consciousness.


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  • Brillouin, L. (1950). Maxwell's demon cannot operate: Information and entropy. I. J. Appl. Physics 22, 334-337.
  • Einstein, A., B. Podalsky, and N. Rosen (1935). Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete? Physical Review, 47, 777-780.
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  • Harman, W. (1994). Toward a `science of wholeness.' and A re-examination of the metaphysical foundations of modern science: Why is it necessary? New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences.
  • Koestler, A. (1967). The Ghost in the Machine. New York: Macmillan.
  • Smuts, J. C. (1926). Holism & Evolution. New York: Macmillan.
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