On Thinking Dynamically about
the Human Ecological Condition
Chuck Dyke
Rather than define ‘‘system,’’ current practice throughout the sciences
urges us to think of a family of systematically connected things such as
the central nervous system, the world economic system, dos, the igni-
tion system in your car, the American prison system, and the histor-
ically paradigmatic solar system and thermodynamic system. Using the
word ‘‘system’’ for such a wide range of things is justified so long as we
respect the obligation to specify what is connected and the nature of the
connections. Beyond that we always have to consider the boundaries
separating a system from the other systems it interacts with, or is em-
bedded in, or, in general, can be distinguished from. For thermody-
namic systems, the standard obligations are the demand for boundary
conditions (isolated, closed, or open system) and the definition of inten-
sive variables such as temperature and pressure. The right to call dos a
system is embedded in the source code. (I share with many others the
view that Windows is only marginally a system.)
We talk of ecosystems, social systems, and ecosocial systems. The
first two usages are long standard and at least partially justified. We
accept the responsibility of justifying the third. This volume begins our
attempt to do so. Notice that the coinage ‘‘ecosocial system’’ explicitly
addresses the question of boundaries. In this case, the clear implication
is that the traditional hard boundary between ‘‘nature’’ and ‘‘society’’ is
being challenged. Usages related to system are ‘‘structure’’ and ‘‘net-
work.’’ We will be at pains to explain the first and don’t have much in
Previous Page Next Page