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PERFORMANCE CONTROL OF BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIETAL SYSTEMS ERNST O. ATTINGER* and HANS MILLENDORFER\ The concept ofa system as developed by the control systems engineer has been primarily aimed at relatively small ensembles ofdeterministically connected and well-defined individual parts. The limits ofthis application are related directly to the classical scientific method that concentrates on the description and analysis ofisolated components. Parts ofa system are studied while the behavior ofthe other parts is kept invariant, deliberately ignoring the fact that in real life all these components interact. Our scientific education has conditioned us not to think about the systemic character ofthings but to consider them in isolation. The spectacular developments in science and technology at a rate undreamed ofeven twenty-five years ago have made it increasingly apparent that such an exclusive approach is inadequate to meet all the requirements of modern societies. Machines can no longer be designed for a specific purpose without considering possible additional and potentially dangerous outputs they might have in terms of generating noise, radiation, and pollution. Furthermore, the revolution in communication and transportation has brought about an acute awareness ofthe interdigitation and interdependence between the performance of economic, social, and political systems. The difference in living standards between haves and havenots has created acute and deep-seated tensions between socioeconomic, religious, racial, and national groups. These are clearly problems ofmajor proportions, the solution of which requires not only international and multidisciplinary collaboration but, also, sacrifices at the national and individual level. Iftechnologies are to be adapted to societies and not societies to technologies, some form of societal guidance of technology is * Chairman, Division ofBiomedical Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22901. t Department of Science, Bundeswirtschaftskammer, Vienna, Austria. IO3 required. Appropriate relations between the various streams of development and the factors which determine their flows have to be established now, if problems such as the balance between population growth and food supply, the pollution of our environment, etc., are to be solved within the next two decades. The multidisciplinary approach provided by generalized systems analysis or operations research holds considerable promise in this regard. These methods emphasize the over-all behavior of complex systems as well as the interaction between the various subsystems and make extensive use of models. Despite a short past, they have already provided tangible results in such diverse areas as administration , warfare, business, education, and public health [1-6]. We believe that a better understanding ofbiological systems, supported as they are by an evolution based on millions of years of research and development, may provide our best guides for future developments of technological and socioeconomic systems [7]. There is nothing new about such a proposition. What is new are the urgency with which solutions are needed and the systemic approach in the search of these solutions. The necessary knowledge can be acquired if as much skill is devoted to the study ofthe hierarchy ofinterrelations and performances ofbiological systems as to the description ofbiological structures or to the laws which govern the transmission ofhereditary characteristics. It is a truism that the important problems of life can be recognized only when the organism responds actively to its environment as a unit. Frequently we can anticipate the reaction ofan animal to a specific stimulus intuitively even though we have no way of predicting it from our knowledge of the properties of neurons, despite the fact that the latter represent the individual components ofthe most pervasive of all control systems and have been studied in detail for many decades. While the application of the physical sciences to biology has been quite successful in describing the structures which constitute living things and the mechanisms through which they operate, it has contributed little to the knowledge of man as a functioning organism. Systems engineering is now a recognized tool in the investigation of biological systems, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that these systems are much more complex thanthe technological systems usually considered by the systems engineer. Technological systems are designed on the basis ofpredesignated criteria of stability and response which are expressed in some analytical form. 104 Ernst O. Attinger and Hans Millendorfer · Control Systems Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn 1968 Biological systems, on the other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 103-123
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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