Sunday, 23 February 2014

Searching for the Systematic (2)

... continues from my earlier post at Searching for the Systematic

When looking at an artifact, a work of art for example, we can choose to view it as a structure or as the result of a process that might have produced it.

If I can describe something to you in terms of its structure, so that you can understand it without necessarily seeing it, then you will have one view of it.

A statue, for example:

I might explain that it is a statue of a man, standing. A Roman man, in Roman attire, from two thousand years ago. He has one hand raised, as if to say something. I can walk all round him and see how how it might have been to be near the real man all those years ago. I have described the statue to you as a structure.

Or, I can describe something to you by describing the process that might have made it.

That statue: perhaps it had been created by a craftsman, a sculptor. It's marble, not bronze. The sculptor used a chisel and hacked away at just the parts of the marble needed to reveal a Roman Senator. The craftsman copied from a small model that had been made by an artist. Two models, in fact. One of the whole man, showing the stance and another more detailed likeness of the face, so that the real senator would be recognizable. I have described the statue to you as a process.

You can call these two descriptions complementary. You will, of course, note that they are not the only descriptions. What, for example, was the purpose of the statue? How much did it cost? When was it actually made? Is it a true likeness, or a re-imagined image? Is this a real senator? What did he do to deserve a statue?

You can make many descriptions. The more the better. But structure and process are fundamentally distinct and essential viewpoints.

And in searching for the systematic, it is important to use both.

Because, when searching for the systematic in complex systems, where there are many, many (sub)systems involved, each will play a part in determining our understanding of the system of interest. Applying a structure-plus-process analysis is a fundamental starting point.