An organized, purposeful structure that consists of interrelated and interdependent elements (components, entities, factors, members, parts etc.). These elements continually influence one another (directly or indirectly) to maintain their activity and the existence of the system, in order to achieve the goal of the system.
All systems have (a) inputs, outputs and feedback mechanisms, (b) maintain an internal steady-state (called homeostasis) despite a changing external environment, (c) display properties that are different than the whole (called emergent properties) but are not possessed by any of the individual elements, and (d) have boundaries that are usually defined by the system observer. Systems underlie every phenomenon and all are part of a larger system. Systems stop functioning when an element is removed or changed significantly. Together, they allow understanding and interpretation of the universe as a meta-system of interlinked wholes, and organize our thoughts about the world.
Although different types of systems (from a cell to the human body, soap bubbles to galaxies, ant colonies to nations) look very different on the surface, they have remarkable similarities. At the most basic level, systems are divided into two categories: (1) Closed systems: theoretical systems that do not interact with the environment and are not influenced by its surroundings. Only the components within the system are significant. Example: a sealed jar--nothing enters or exits the jar, but whatever is inside can interact. (2) Open systems: real-world systems whose boundaries allow exchanges of energy, material and information with the larger external environment or system in which they exist. Example: a company--even if there are separate departments in one organization, the workers share data and interact with each other on a daily basis. Different systems methodologies (such as systems dynamics and systems thinking) classify systems differently.
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