Systems Theory as a Foundation for Discovery of Pathologies for Complex System Problem Formulation

  • Polinpapilinho F. KatinaEmail author
Part of the Advanced Sciences and Technologies for Security Applications book series (ASTSA)


This chapter articulates a set of systems theory-based pathologies that act to limit performance of complex systems. In response to the common mantra that problem formulation is the most important activity in successfully dealing with complex system problems, this research elaborates on the utility of systems theory as the basis for problem formulation through the discovery of system pathologies. Pathologies are taken as circumstances that act to limit system performance or lessen system viability (continued existence) and as such they reduce the likelihood of a system meeting performance expectations. As an extension of contemporary developments in systems theory, this chapter is focused on three primary objectives. First, systems theory is examined to generate a comprehensive set of 45 principles, laws and concepts that explain system behavior and performance. Second, a set of systems theory-based pathologies that can be explained as deviation in application of systems theory (i.e., lack of use or violation) are articulated. Third, the chapter discusses implications of the developed pathologies for practitioners faced with the task of formulating complex system problems. The chapter concludes with proposed future research.


Ambiguity Complexity Emergence Interdependence Management cybernetics Metasystem Problem formulation Sustainability Systems pathology Systems theory Systems theory-based pathology (STBP) Uncertainty Viability Viable system model (VSM) 




increasing lack of clarity and situational understanding


large numbers of richly interdependent and dynamically interacting systems with behavior difficult to predict


inability to deduce behavior, structure, or performance from constituent elements


mutual influence among complex systems through which the state of a system influences and is influenced by, the state of interconnected systems

Management cybernetics

the science of effective organization, places emphasis on communication and control of systems


a governing structure with a set of interrelated higher level functions; it provides for integration of autonomous complex systems to achieve functionality (or goals and missions) beyond constituent systems

Problem formulation

arguably the most important stage of systems-based methodologies intended for discovery of circumstances, trends, patterns, and issues acting to limit complex system performance


evolving for future existence and thus is the capacity to endure over time

Systems pathology

a circumstance, factor, or pattern that acts to limit system performance, or lessen systems viability, such that the likelihood of a system achieving performance expectations is reduced

Systems theory

a unified group of specific propositions which are brought together to aid in understanding systems, thereby invoking improved explanatory power and interpretation with major implications for systems practitioners; provides a set of universals that can define function, performance, and behavior of all systems, natural or manmade

Systems theory-based pathology (STBP)

a pathology (see systems pathology) stemming from deviation in applications of systems theory and expressed as the lack of use of fundamental concepts of systems theory (i.e., laws, principles, and theorems) or direct violation of fundamental concepts of systems theory (e.g., ignoring a systems theoretic law)


incompleteness in understanding, predicting, or controlling


continued present existence


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Old Dominon UniversityNorfolkUSA

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