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General Systems Theory 1

Assignment 1-1, General Systems Theory: Information Systems Theory and the Laws of


Cinda Harrold

Information Systems Architecture and Technology,

MIS 310-V3WW

Professor Bird, Franklin University

January 10, 2010

General Systems Theory 2

General Systems Theory: Information Systems Theory and the Laws of Thermodynamics

General Systems Theory, or GST, is a philosophy that involves all the properties of a

system, regardless of the system’s structure (Skyttner, 2007). A system can be described as

interfacing pieces that work together to achieve a common aim. In some way, almost everything

known to man can be considered a system. From tangible systems to theoretical systems to

systems made by nature and systems made by man, General Systems Theory seeks to leverage

the common characteristics inherent in all systems to further understanding of different systems.

By subscribing to the thought that a whole system is more than just the total of its parts, General

Systems Theory prescribes that looking at the system as a whole would foster a better

understanding of the parts (Bernard, Paoline, & Pare, 2005).

In order to better understand General Systems Theory, the three laws of thermodynamics

can be viewed as interconnected to GST. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is

neither created nor destroyed (Skyttner, 2007). The amount of energy in the universe is

invariable and, therefore, is only converted from one form to another. The second law of

thermodynamics asserts that all of the existing energy in the universe is constantly and

irreparably breaking down. This law leads to a basic principle that the amount of entropy in

systems increases as energy is being transformed from one type into another, leaving less energy

in the system to perform more functions (Stevenson, 1975). The third law of thermodynamics

affirms that, as processes approach the absolute zero, or thermodynamic steady-state, the

processes slow down (Skyttner, 2007). In other words, as the system approaches absolute zero,

the entropy of the system also approaches zero.

Information systems theory links general systems theory with information and

information technologies. In information systems theory, IS as a whole is viewed as a system

General Systems Theory 3

which has properties and characteristics in common with other systems (Lerner, 2004).

Information systems theory is now much more than simply computer science in which a

computer was recognized as a system that processed information. Even the definition of

information has expanded from the general contents of a database, for example, into a much

broader definition not dependent upon its form or medium.

General systems theory, the three laws of thermodynamics, and information systems

theory are all interconnected. All three topics can be viewed from a holistic perspective which

brings to light more understanding of the pieces and parts than would be gleaned from separate

examinations and considerations of each. By following the principles of general systems theory

as applied to information systems, complex problems previously solved by the human brain

could be solved by complex computer programs and algorithms. When viewing information

systems as a whole, the laws of thermodynamics can be applied to understand the transformation

of energy (or information) from one form into another, along with the concept that the level of

entropy in a closed system always increases. Since information systems are non-living, they are

inclined to operate more efficiently, however, as the second law of thermodynamics implies,

information systems are also plagued by the amount of decreasing order (and resulting chaos)

over time.
General Systems Theory 4


Bernard, T. J., Paoline, E. A., & Pare, P. (2005). General systems theory and criminal justice.

Journal of Criminal Justice, 33(3), 203-211. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2005.02.001

Lerner, V. (2004). Introduction to information systems theory: concepts, formalism and

applications. International Journal of Systems Science, 35(7), 405-424.


Skyttner, L. (2007). General systems theory: Problems, perspectives, and practice. (2nd ed.).

Hackensak, NJ: World Scientific.

Stevenson, K. L. (1975). Brief introduction to the three laws of thermodynamics. Journal of

Chemical Education, 52(5), 330. doi: 10.1021/ed052p330