General Systems Theory and Peace [Anatol Rapoport, ISSS 1998 Plenary Session, July 22/98]

[Plenary session, July 22/98, 9:30 a.m.]

Anatol Rapoport, one of original founders of ISSS, mathematical biologist

Asked to prepare a paper on General Systems Theory and Peace, found a different topic listed on program, as Peace, Sustainability, and Military Technology.

Now will discuss prepared paper, on General Systems Theory and Peace. Original article by Kenneth Boulding, "The Skeleton of Science", as the framework to hold the knowledge together

Originally attracted academics, in generalists, in two camps:

  1. Hard science
  2. Biology.
Play a game called "models", used to play 20 questions because the question became convoluted (e.g. quill of pen used by Chaucer in Canterbury) What's in common?
  1. A man is taking a bath in Sydney, Australia vs. Sydney Nova Scotia (rotation of water into drain)
  2. Galileo in Spanish Inquisition (about rotation of the earth)
  3. Horse traders in a huge financial lost (horse latitudes, ship lost in trade winds)
It took a long time to figure out that burning of a candle, and breathing are all oxidization.


  1. Bee on flower
  2. Man sends flower to woman
Organismic approach of organizations, e.g. cell at bottom, which becomes an organism, in species, in genus, Schema of scientific integration with bounds for integration.

Jim Miller created a similar table, with 19 subsystems of living systems.

A system is portion of the world which is recognizable as itself, despite the fact that the constituent parts have been replaced. Geoffrey Vickers: institutions grow, reproduce, decay, dissolve. Brings to the topic: establishing world peace, from the General Systems paradigm.

Peace research based in Louis Richardson in 1940s, from mathematical base (not organism)

Rapoport more interested in organismic approach Why has war not been eliminated, then? S. Maywos (?), 1880. What keeps war prosperous? Most successful adaptation of war ideology in WWI War as an institution is a parasite invading a host -- humanity. Insight from GST: Abuse of science and even GST can also contribute to war.


Sabelli: Peace should be the true goal of this society.

Humans are intelligent: economics have defeated most countries, still have lots of people starving. Is this a complicity of scientists?

What is the role of science today? Problem of politics, not technology? It's the distribution of resources, where the military is a sideshow.

Ethnic separatism? There's 150 wars or skirmishes today, but over 100 battles are within countries. Since 1943, 100 new countries established. Large number of refugees and displaced individuals. Number of civilians impacted has increased.

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