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Semantic Analysis

Early attempts at systems theory focused on interdisciplinary studies, or the search for general concepts that were used in similar ways in many disciplines. Such concepts as "stability", "feedback" and "information" appear in many specific theories, but usually according to different fundamental ideas and with specific emphases. In the spirit of the original positivists \cite{NEOCAR38}, it was hoped that by placing emphasis on developing a common terminology for the special scientists, that theoretical unification would follow.

Such a goal has, however, proved elusive at best. Only a very few researchers have explicitly pursued cross-disciplinary theories \cite{OLR82,TRL88}. Rather than unification, recent systems theory has seen a proliferation of new language and terminology. For example, the Proceedings of the 1991 Conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences includes an excellent index \cite{ISSS91} of keywords used in proceedings papers, listing keywords and the papers they were used in. Table 1 shows a summary of the number of papers that shared a certain number of keywords, and the keywords that were shared the most.

# Cross-References # Papers Keywords
1 394
2 48
3 7
4 3
5 2 Process Theory, Toroid
6 1 Living Systems Theory
7 2 System, Integration
8 1 Living Systems
Table 1: Summation of keywords shared amongst papers

For example, the keyword "living systems" appeared in eight papers, and was the only keyword to do so, while both "system" and "integration" appeared in seven papers each. It should be noted that "Process Theory" and "Toroid" were each used by single author groups in multiple similar papers; that JG and JL Miller's "Living Systems Theory" \cite{MIJ78,MIJMIJ90} was a focus of a number of special sessions at the conference, which Profs. Miller and Miller attended; and that "System" is the single unifying concept of the entire society. The inclusion of the term "Integration" only reveals the irony of the absence of integration in the terminology used by members of the ISSS. This is demonstrated by the exponential distribution of keyword sharing.

We can conclude that there is virtually to terminological cohesion in the systems field.

Principia Cybernetica proceeds from the assumption of the early systemists, that a primary purpose of Cybernetics and Systems Science is to move towards the unification of science, in part (but only in part) through terminological unification and reduction. To that end, a primary purpose of Principia Cybernetica will be to perform semantic analysis on terms and concepts through the explication of their various senses in the context of their historical development. It is intended to identify synonyms, perhaps adopting a single term to replace anachronistic, specialized, or otherwise obsolete usages from the family of terms. Sometimes there will be good criteria to select the term, other times the term can be chosen arbitrarily without loss of generality. Otherwise, a variety of semantic relations can be identified, for example antonym, generalization or instance. New terminology will only be introduced as a last resort. In this way, we intend to be able to adopt a single coherent set of terminology to be used to develop Metasystem Transition Theory.

Copyright© 1992 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Jan 1992


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