The Institute on Man and Science; Systems Interact, part I
National Educational radio in cooperation with the Institute on man and science presents a series of talks drawn from the institute's annual conference held recently in Rensselaer Vale New York. The Institute on man and science is a nonprofit educational institution chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. The annual assembly of the institute is designed to focus attention on 20th century technology and the human relationships resulting from its application. The speaker on this program is a VLA Parsi agent of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. This lecture is the first of three on the general topic. What systems analysis has taught us about ourselves and the natural world. Here now is Mr. Parsi Jhon. I'd like to begin first with a few observations very simple observations of things about us. As we view nature and our own human interest our own human activities. Perhaps the most
distinguishing feature of nature is that it just does not allow anything to remain still. Nature is dynamic. From the moment we wake up in the morning and even before we've awakened in the morning things are in a state of change. Things are in a state of variation. One moment to the next. So the changes that characterize nature perhaps constitute the first observation that we can make and see many examples off the seasons come and go. Of course the seasons are a result of the earth's rotating and maybe we can say that the Earth rotating is part of the nuclear phenomena in the star systems that cause violent internal conversions. Nuclear conversions in the star systems that do produce energy that goes out and we have the every star a sun every sun radiating energy out and planets like our own which receive a tiny bit
of this radiation and this gives us the seasons. This gives us all the variations. So we've got the cold winters and the spring and the summers and things change and we've got the day and night and things change. And we've got these things that seem to be repetitive and they are repetitive. There are these tendencies to maintain status quo and yet we never have status quo things continue to change they cycle they seem to cycle and come back and yet they never come back exactly. And these are some of the things we'd like to note with every change of day and night. We've got the recycling but never is the second day the same as the first. Just as in the course of our lifetime we have every morning we rise every morning. We're hungry. Every morning we go through a process and we live but that is the repetitiveness with change so that that is a cyclic phenomenon cyclic. There are cyclic phenomena that characterize life
but these seem to ride on a curve which is headed in some direction. So that we've got life as a ripple of activity a cyclic character to life riding on trains which seem to have long directions long range trends and we wonder where some of these trends are headed. So that. There are other cyclic aspects and there are the unidirectional aspects and this holds true not only for Mother Earth but for our own personal lives because we are creatures of the earth and we are responsive to the changes of Mother Earth. Everything about us is related to Mother Earth. Even the things that make up our body come from the dust of the earth. And so we simply adapt ourselves to the cyclic phenomena and simply adapt
ourselves to the long trends because we find it as nature changed from the time when the atmosphere of the earth was apparently made up of such things as methane and sulfur compounds and ammonia. This has changed and life living systems have changed with it. We now have largely oxygen in the atmosphere and I gion and we are adapted to that so that the earth changes with the long range trends even though there was the daily night and day and the seasons each year. The change is in a direction that we'd like to think on a little bit. Now. These changes the nature of these cycles. There are a few observations we can make on those. There are of course some changes that simply come from the earth rotated from things rotating. It seems to be cyclic because there's energy there. Things in motion continue in motion and so the repetitiveness is as
cyclic as routine as you can get. But actually that is not the only kind of cyclic phenomenon that we observe in our lives in the in the natural earth. There are some cycles that cycle only because there are restoring forces that come into play. That is things change upward and something pulls them down. Things change to the left move to the left and something pulls them back. The characteristics of the restoring force there in a crude way we may think of as the stock market. Think of the stock market ups and downs. Think of the stock market with the trend upward. The gross national output upward. And yet when you look at the graph there is the constant up and down relationship. There are some built in characteristics that are restoring forces. The price on some stock goes up because people want to buy it. After it's gone up a
bit there is a view storing force because others take profit and the thing goes down. And yet it may not it's not likely to go down to exactly the same point. But these built in restoring forces there and these characterize many of the situations that are both characteristic of our human our own lives and of Mother Nature. And then there are the other cyclic phenomena that a cyclic because it actually controlled held to some average and so the cyclic character comes through as a result of a control action controlling action. So there are these three general categories that we can identify and if we think of the experience of our day this morning for example as we woke up in the day and night kind of took care of the regularity from that point of view and we woke up because we are also responsive to the 24 hour day to the night and day of
Mother Nature. And even if it were dark you'd know you'd wake up. However there are some things that also are internal to us if we were hungry and this is a cyclic phenomenon. And this is something that calls for some explanation as to how this came about and we have discussed this a little bit later. And then there are some controls. They say that you shall do this and you shall not do that. The code of ethics the laws that are imposed on us and those that we impose on ourselves so that there is a control aspect that comes with us. And of course if this place were air conditioned we'd have control systems that would operate and hold the temperature to some value so that each day's experiences we have all of these repetitive features but repetitive for a variety of reasons among them being the out not controlled. And I was having the built in restoring forces that make for
return. Now. Let's try to analyze. The few. Situations that are relatively simple. I won't stay with the stock market because that's not simple. Let's simply take another experience of throwing a stone. Hurling a stone. If I were to hurl a stone. Well the experience on its own could be analyzed in terms of the Newtonian mechanics you know especially the young fellows not the older folk who have learned the three laws of Newton. You can determine what the force was that caused that stone to move forward. And you can get quite a lot of accurate detail on the experience of throwing that stone. But the interesting thing is this Stones just don't get thrown without some cause. And so there is
more to it than just the Newtonian mechanics of analyzing the force that initiated acceleration on the part of the stone and caused it to reach a store window and crash into that window. And the analysis of the exact energy with which force with which it struck doesn't tell the whole story. In life that's beautiful that's perfect. And we appreciate Newtonian mechanics but it's works and it's worth a lot. But the fact is that that does not explain why that stone was thrown. And it does not explain the consequences. In other words any situation involves more than just the Newtonian mechanics analysis of the stone being perfect. There is in fact this aspect of any event no event emerges on its own unrelated to other events. Every event every effect has a cause. Well Newton told us that but he stop with the forced calculations on that still.
He didn't go back further and ask why did that man through the storm. So that there is the long. Sequence that preceded any event and of course there's a long sequence that follows an event. Now the interesting thing is this. If I hurl that stone and it crashes through a window and if I am apprehended if the judgment is pronounced on me there is. A feedback of the effect of that judgement on the attitude the posture that was the cause of that stone being thrown. And so what we've got now is a feedback. It could be that the judgement is of a kind that will simply cultivate more of the attitude that threw the stone in the first place. Or we call that positive feedback we presently learn. Or that they could be what we call the negative feedback
which would oppose the initial situation condition and inclination force that impelled the throwing of that stone so that there is immediately a feedback of things. And so here we are. Any natural phenomenon that we personally might become involved in and that nature might become involved in involves these cycles interrelated phenomena long chains of them that preceded the throwing of the stone and long changes of chains of effects and causes that follow. In each case interrelated interrelated and it is some of these into relations that become exceedingly important to analyze to see what these mean in terms of human interest. And so every situation begins to look like something of a system. And the Closed. Body of elements are enclosed a few elements that seem to have into
relationships that we have to look at as characterizing situations. Now what is a system. What is a system. It is not easy to give an accurate definition of what constitutes a system. However there are a few things that we can say about a system usually involves two or more elements or aspects. Of features. That are interrelated that are interrelated. And we can have these as being very simple or very complex. The. Parts. That make it up may be simply a lock and key. That's a system. Of course when I refer to my body as a system and it is it's a rather complicated thing and so I'll avoid the complicated systems for the moment at least. The systems are rarely
complete in themselves and unrelated to the outside. That is the locking key as part of a door. It's part of a purpose. It's part of a larger system. We've got the say the lock and key is on a bank vault. Which is a good idea. The bank also has a president and staff. There's another subsystem. Both subsystems of the larger system the larger system being the back. But that in itself is a subsystem of the still larger system. The community economics which itself is a subsystem of a still larger system. The national economics. And so when we come to analyze situations or systems we've got the problem of what constitutes the system that I want to study. What makes for the minimum. The simplest system that the analysis of which will give me some meaningful results and this is not always easy
to identify because everything seems to be a subsystem of a larger system. However it is possible to identify a scope for many of these situations at least. For example if the lock and key on the bank vault should need repair the repairman can come and repair that and he does not need to introduce any questions about the philosophy of socialism vs. capitalistic system while repairing that lock. He can proceed to repair the lock and that can be considered as a fairly independent subsystem for purposes of that particular analysis at least and then one can go on to other considerations and bring in the larger systems only as one has to include them. Now I'm going to presently demonstrate some. Examples of systems and the phenomena that accompany them but before I do
I'd like to mention the developments that came with the controls science the science of control. So at a time when I entered industry years ago industry was just beginning to get into accurate control of petroleum refinery temperatures and pressures for example when the steel mills were just beginning to get into more accurate control instrumentation was coming into its own and with the instrumentation the concept of controls holding temperatures holding pressures holding things constant holding a quality product uniform and so on. It began in the early 30s and proceeded for. While in that form and then there came the servo mechanism period during the Second World War when it became necessary to develop greater skill to kill men faster. We had faster guns and we had more powerful guns and we
had to have the things in a form that could be moved quickly and and directed effectively. And this science of several mechanisms received great impetus which was simply the science of controlled controlling of things fast and accurately. And if this meant a refinement of the old concept the old practices of controlling temperatures in a refinery that was a considerable refinement of that. But it was a little later when men like Norbert Wiener and Howard Tudor Rosenbluth compared the servo mechanism type of control concept with the other phenomena that were nearer to our own personal experiences and they identified some similarities and in fact there was born the science of cybernetics cybernetics being from the word the Greek word Khyber ness for steersman steering of ships.
This had been an old word actually. The Plato did use the word cybernetics when he commented in one of the writings. The cybernetics of men as you Socrates often call politics. And so finally the science of control became refined identified with these defined several mechanisms systems and the science of cybernetics was born. And it has been used and misused ever since misused because we find that the word Cybernetics is supposed to automatically explain all phenomena regardless of whether you know what the word means or not. At any rate the experience was a very simple one as explained by Wiener and others. There is even within the body. A feedback principle which allows the principles of control to be useful in the manipulation of the body
as well as of the gun control parts. For example here I've got a box that I might want to pick up. I have. I reach for that box of course there is a motivation from the brain centers that direct me toward that and direct the muscles toward that. But as I reach for that box at any point in that insight within that motion I know where my hand is and I know where my hand must go from there in order to pick up that box. Well I know only because I receive information from the muscle systems the sensory systems that are related to the muscle systems which direct my every motion and so that is this feedback principle feedback information that constantly guides me and it is some of the details of this that I want to go into a little later. But now I'd like to illustrate that get down to some simple
principles to see just what we can demonstrate that's meaningful in terms of the characteristics of a system. Here I have. This weight that I happen to have in the office and this spring that I happen to have in the office. I have I'm hanging the weight with weight hangs from the spring as you see and it also lates with a beautiful symmetrical motion that we ordinarily call simple harmonic motion. The thing goes up and down in a beautiful cycle. This is cycle cycling at its neatest at its prettiest. If we were to draw a curve of displacement vs. time. It is a cleaner cyclic phenomenon than we ordinarily find in the stock market for example or in other variations in life. However there are great similarities between this simple system and the more common experiences that we have in life. Now let's for a
moment see what this thing does. This is a spring coil spring very similar to the core spring by which the grocer is supposed to give you proper weight when you buy some tomatoes. The principle of the spring is simply that as you pull on it it pulls back. If you pull it give it a displacement twice as much. It pulls back twice as hard. There's a restoring force restoring force the sociate it with it which is proportional to displacement. So that's all there is to this. Here I hang it up and you see the length of it. It's shocking. This is a mess. What do we mean by a mass. Well a mask is something that when you push it it doesn't want to go right away. You've got to push it with a certain force and that inertia characteristic is what identifies this thing we really know mass only because as we push it we find that it resists that push. If we however calculate the thing we
find that the old Newtonian equation if it was am a holes and that and that mass is is related to that concept the concept of mass comes from that physical experience taken in a quantitative way. Well now this mass is of course. Something that the earth attracts just as it attracts our bodies through a gravitational attraction. And so when I hang this weight from this spring we find that the spring is now elongated because the attraction of the earth the mass and the earth to eat toward each other causes the force the force to be exerted on the spring which gives it any longer. So now in this position we have this spring which is standing when it is standing. It has a rest position about here. Now when I put some energy into this thing by pushing down on it or raising up on it
then. And when you see that I have put energy into it I pushed and then release it. Then it simply executes the simple harmonic motion. Now when this is at the lower end where I released it the there is potential energy there. The spring is pushing but pulling back harder than it did when it was in the rest position. And so the spring pulling back on it with the F equals M.A. gives this thing some velocity. But when it comes to the zero point. Where it where there are no restoring forces on it to move it it at that point has kinetic energy it's moving fast and so it goes right by that zero point until it becomes potential energy again at the top. So there is here a mass with and spring system with some extra energy put into it with restoring forces in the spring system which causes the thing to oscillate in this nation manner. Now this is simple harmonic motion with a little
energy in it. This might be a simple. Attractive but not exciting. System. What happens to this when I impose on this a little motion from my holding hand. And this is where now some of the basic principles of controls begins to come it. Supposing as this weight moves up and down I move my hand but in such a way that when the weight goes down I move my hand up a little bit. When the weight is on the upstroke I move my hand down a little bit. Let's see what happens. Here is the here's the motion with my hand still. Now I'm moving my hand a little bit up and down up and down. The sink tends to settle down to a smaller amplitude of motion.
It appears to be a more stable system. If anything as though the spring were a little stiffer so the motion is reduced somewhat and we're all right we're not in bad shape. Let me try this again. Now it's moving without any motion. Now my hand is up and down and but in opposite feet 180 degree out of phase with the relationship of the motion itself. Supposing I change the phase relationship of the of my hand motion in relation to did you all see that by the way. Supposing instead of moving my hand two minutes more. Supposing instead of moving my hand up and down as I did I move my hand down a little bit again. When the weight is going down and up a little when the weight is going
up in phase with the motion. Let's see what happens. You know the thing goes out of control. The motion builds up and presently the think goes to self destruction simply because of the phase relationship phase relationship between the motion of this system and the imposed motion that I gave. And immediately the principal comes in about the soft answer turning away wrath. And when your wife speaks loudly for Pete's sake don't you speak loudly at the same time. This is the first principle of stable control versus unstable control. You heard V.L. Parsi Jin of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as he gave the first of three lectures on the topic. What systems analysis has taught us about ourselves and the natural world. Mr. Parsi agent spoke at the annual conference of the
- Systems Interact, part I
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- Institute on Man and Science
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- For series info, see Item 3566. This prog.: Systems Interact: what Systems Analysis Has Taught Us About Ourselves and the Natural World, part I. V.L. Parsegian, physicist, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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- Chicago: “The Institute on Man and Science; Systems Interact, part I,” 1969-02-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 19, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-z892dg9v.
- MLA: “The Institute on Man and Science; Systems Interact, part I.” 1969-02-24. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 19, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-z892dg9v>.
- APA: The Institute on Man and Science; Systems Interact, part I. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-z892dg9v