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YESTERDAY, WE LEARNED Chinese mathematician Hsue-Shen Tsien’s characterization of systematology, an interdisciplinary approach to studying open, complex, giant systems. Today in Part 2, we’ll continue examining this innovative philosophy of science.

Qian Xuesen, also known as Hsue-Shen Tsien, 1911–2009, Chinese mathematician, physicist, and aerospace engineer. This and following images from Hsue-Shen Tsien Think Tank.

Hsue-Shen Tsien wrote, “The systematology we advocate is neither holism nor reductionism, but the dialectical unity of holism and reductionism.”

Dialectical Materialism. Merriam-Webster defines dialectical materialism as “the Marxist theory that maintains the material basis of a reality constantly changing in a dialectical process and the priority of matter over mind.”

I believe this somewhat circular definition helps to explain why Philosophy 101 was never a long suit of mine and why I gravitated to the precision of mathematics.

Indeed, Pang Laikwan’s “辩证唯物主义 Dialectical Materialism,” part of Archives of Chinese Communism, seems not to disagree: “While the teaching of ‘dialectical materialism’ (bianzheng weiwuzhuyi) is part of secondary and university curricula in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), young Chinese citizens probably consider it a hackneyed, dogmatic, and fussy logic. After all, their job is simply to mechanically recite official definitions and methods instead of engaging intellectually with them.”

On the other hand, the Hsue-Shen Tsien Think Tank applies this dialectical unity of systematology to explore some of humanity’s most complex challenges.

Open, Complex, Giant Systems. Open systems are characterized by having external interactions with their environment. By contrast, a closed system can be studied without such outside influences.

Complexity may arise from a system’s nonlinearity, randomness, or self-adaptive behavior. A system’s size and intricacy may well place it beyond the ken of a single discipline.

The Hsue-Shen Tsien Think Tank booklet cites examples of systems that are open, complex, and giant: the human brain, the human body, social and geo systems, and the galaxies. To deal with such systems requires what Tsien called a “qualitative-to-quantitative metasynthesis.”

Metasyntheses. A metasynthesis that’s qualitative gathers hypotheses of the problem being studied. Scientific methods of experimentation and simulation refine this to quantitative levels.

A metasynthesis combines data from experts, information systems, and computers “to construct a highly intelligent man-machine combination and integration system.”

“Machines,” it’s noted, “are unable to imagine or create.… We can only reach the highest level of human potential by relying on a human-machine combination, a human-web combination, and a human orientation.”

Flow chart summarizing an application of metasynthesis in the research of decision-support issues.

“The Top Design Unit,” it’s noted, “is the ‘soul’ of the Think Tank…. It is a repository of the highest levels of human thought from around the world and throughout history.”

“The Big Data and Intelligence Unit serves as ‘the five sense organs’ of the Think Tank….” The Network and Information Unit is its ‘nerve center.’ The Model Unit, its ‘left brain,’ is patterned after human logic. The Expert Data Base Unit is its ‘right brain,’ modeling human imagination. The Interactive Unit is the Think Tank’s ‘muscle,’ building bridges between the virtual and real world.

“The Think Tank and its systematic principles,” it’s noted, “have played an important role in the proposal for China’s manned spaceflight program…” Also cited are its contributions to “critical decision support for China’s social and economic development.”

Tsien wrote, “The metasynthesis method combines qualitative research with quantitative research, scientific theory with experimental knowledge, natural sciences with social sciences, and macro-research with micro-research.”

The Seven Industrial Revolutions. We ordinarily think of a single Industrial Revolution characterized by agrarian society transforming to one based on manufacturing. The Hsue-Shen Tsien Think Tank expands on this, synthesizing science and technology with social and political aspects.

Its First Industrial Revolution begins with the use of fire and evolution of a slave society. Its Second one stretches from the Bronze Age to Medieval times. Its Third Industrial Revolution is the familiar one; its Fourth, characterized by economies evolving from free enterprise to monopoly capitalism. We’re living at the cusp of its Fifth and Sixth, with rapid developments in information technology and genetic engineering.

The Fifth, it’s noted, had “Transformation of society into consortiums of countries with different political systems and different economic situations.” The Sixth, it is proposed, will see “Transformation of society into a more homogenous social form.”

The Seventh Industrial Revolution, arriving in the late 21st century, will see an acceleration of medical and life sciences. And, it’s noted, the “Beginning of a new era for humanity, marked by unity and harmony.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. oregoncoaster5
    November 17, 2019

    The seventh step sounds a bit like utopia. Doesn’t factor in the base human need for power – or greed.
    Hate to be a party pooper…

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