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SystemsResearchandBehavioral Science

Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)

PublishedonlineinWiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com)
Living Systems Theory and
Social Entropy Theory
Kenneth D. Bailey*
Department of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Although Living Systems Theory (LST) has been widely recognized for its major
contributions to scholarship in general and systems theory in particular, the full extent of
its contribution has never been explicitly presented. The purpose of this paper is twofold:
rst to discuss LST, and then to relate it to Social Entropy Theory (SET). The paper rst
presents 20 major contributions of LST. This is not an exhaustive list, but is simply
designed to present simultaneously the wide range of contributions made by Miller,
some of which have not been sufciently recognized nor appreciated. Millers
contributions focused upon the actions of concrete components in fullling the critical
subsystems processes required by systems at each level. He placed less emphasis on the
key systems variables such as population and technology. Fortunately, Social Entropy
Theory has explicated a set of key variables. The second part of the paper discusses Social
Entropy Theory, and shows how it complements and extends LST. Copyright # 2006
John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Keywords Living systems theory; major contributions; limitations; social entropy theory
Although Living Systems Theory (LST) has been
widely recognized for its contributions to scho-
larship in general, and to systems theory in
particular, the full extent of its contribution has
never been explicitly presented. Millers most
famous book, Living Systems (Miller, 1978) was
designed to present a comprehensive analysis of
concrete systems at all hierarchical levels. Thus,
by denition, Millers contributions are pri-
marily limited to the study of the concrete living
system. The book does make contributions to
abstracted systems theory, but these are mostly
The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, I
will discuss LST, and second, I will relate it to
Social Entropy Theory (SET). After summarizing
the aspects of LST that are most salient for our
purposes here, I will list and discuss 20 con-
tributions made by LST, many of which have
remained generally unrecognized. Next I will
discuss the limitations of LST. These do not
include any major problems, but are mostly
points that require clarication. I will conclude
Copyright # 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
* Correspondence to: Kenneth D. Bailey, University of California, Los
Angeles, Department of Sociology, 264 Haines Hall, 375 Portola Plaza,
Box 951551, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1551 USA.
E-mail: Kbailey@soc.ucla.edu.
by summarizing Social Entropy Theory, and
showing how it complements LST by providing
a comprehensive analysis of some topics such as
technology and population size that, while they
may have been mentioned in passing by Miller,
were not the focus of Millers theory.
Most readers probably see LST in terms of its
basic structure of 20 critical subsystems dis-
played on each of eight hierarchical levels. In
reality, there are many more contributions. One
neglected contribution of LST is its consistent
emphasis on process. (see contribution number
14 below). The discussion of every subsystem in
Living Systems includes both an analysis of
process and an analysis of structure. Further,
the basis for classifying the 20 subsystems is by
whether they process matter-energy or informa-
tion, or both (Miller, 1978, p. 3).
Millers basic analytical strategy for LST can be
characterized in terms of ve basic steps or
1. Identify and name the exact number of
empirically-occurring hierarchical levels. This
step originally yielded seven levels (with a
discussion of other possible levels in Miller,
1978), and was subsequently expanded to
eight levels.
2. Identify and name the exact number of critical
subsystems that are assumed to occur empiri-
cally at each of the eight levels. This step
originally yielded 19 critical subsystems (with
discussion of other candidates), and was
subsequently expanded to 20 critical subsys-
3. Analyse the 20 critical subsystem processes at
each of the eight levels.
4. Identify (when possible) empirical compo-
nents which full each of the 20 critical
processes. If a component cannot be found
which fulls the process for the system at a
given level, a search can be made for cases in
which the processes are fullled by dispersal.
This includes downward dispersal (appar-
ently the most common), upward dispersal,
lateral dispersal and outward dispersal. Work
in LST has succeeded in identifying examples
for most (but not all) of the critical subsystems
on the eight levels.
5. Continue to analyse and interpret all 160 cells
of the matrix formed by the 20 critical
subsystems at eight levels.
The seven original hierarchical levels in LST
are the cell, organ, organism, group, organiza-
tion, society and supranational level (Miller,
1978). The eighth level, the community, was
added later, and was inserted between the
organizational and societal levels (Miller and
Miller, 1992). Miller (1978) had originally dis-
cussed the inclusion of the community level, but
had decided against it.
The 19 original critical subsystems include
two that process both matter-energy and infor-
mation (the reproducer and the boundary). Eight
additional subsystems are said to process matter-
energy only. These are ingestor, distributor,
converter, producer, matter-energy storage,
extruder, motor and supporter. There were
originally nine additional subsystems said to
process information only. These are input trans-
ducer, internal transducer, channel and net,
decoder, associator, memory, decider, encoder
and output transducer. The tenth information-
processing subsystem (and the twentieth sub-
system) is the timer, which was not included in
the original list, but was added later (Miller and
Miller, 1992).
Any listing of the contributions of LST is bound
to be somewhat arbitrary, and probably incom-
plete. Scholars may differ in the value they attach
to different contributions. Nevertheless, it seems
important to compile, for the rst time, a
comprehensive (if not exhaustive) list of the
contributions of LST. The most obvious contri-
butions will be listed rst, followed by some
others that may be easily overlooked, but are
nonetheless important.
The rst major contribution is the specication
of the 20 critical subsystems. This is probably the
most widely noted contribution, and may be (in
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
292 K. D. Bailey
some ways) the most important. However, most
scholars would nd the task of studying 20
subsystems quite intimidating. And further,
there is a certain arbitrariness in specifying the
exact number of subsystems. Miller (1978, p.
1044) asks rhetorically, How do you know there
are exactly 19 subsystems? He suggests (Miller,
1978, p. 1045) that some persons may wish to add
a new recreational subsystem. But again, he
later added a new subsystem (the timer, see
Miller and Miller, 1992), but never added the
recreational subsystem. He also suggested in
some instances that the number of subsystems
could be reduced by combining the associator
and memory, or by combining the channel and
net and the decoder (Miller, 1978, p. 1044).
The second major contribution is the specica-
tion of the eight hierarchical levels. While this
contribution seems obvious and has been widely
noted and discussed, a number of nuances are
involved which may remain unrecognized. First
of all, it takes a certain amount of intellectual
courage to even attempt analysis at more than a
single level. By undertaking analyses at eight
levels, Miller is crossing the domains of many
established academic disciplines, from genetics
to anatomy to biology, to psychology, to manage-
ment, to sociology, to anthropology and to
political science to name a few. Many (probably
most) scholars spend their lives studying a single
one of Millers eight levels.
For example, pathologists concentrate on
organs, psychologists on individuals, social
workers and family therapists on families
(groups), and management theorists on organi-
zations. Thus, the very idea of working at so
many levels may seem strange and intimidating
to many scholars. Second, the specication of
levels is challenging and again requires intellec-
tual courage. Miller (1978, p. 1044) acknowledges
the difculty of specifying the exact number of
levels, asking rhetorically, How do you know
there are exactly seven levels? He says further,
It is possible that the tissue is a level between the
cell and the organ or that the community is a
level between the organization and the society, in
some systems at least. In fact, He did later add
the community level (Miller and Miller, 1992),
but never added the tissue level.
The third contribution is the emphasis on
cross-level analysis and the production of
numerous cross-level hypotheses. One of Mill-
ers (1978, pp. 8992, 10311032) chief concerns
was the development and testing of cross-level
hypotheses. These are hypotheses that can be
tested for two or more levels simultaneously. In
Chapter 4, Miller lists a large number of
hypotheses, with 173 of these being applicable
to two or more levels of livings systems (see
Miller, 1978, pp. 89119, p. 1031). Miller con-
sidered the development and testing of cross-
level hypotheses to be very important. It is
important to note that only a broad systems
framework like Millers can even offer the
possibility of cross-level research. Most para-
digms, including many systems paradigms,
include only one or a few levels, thus effectively
precluding the possibility of cross-level research.
A fourth contribution is cross-subsystem
research. Another possibility afforded by LST is
the formulation and testing of hypotheses in two
or more subsystems at a time. For example, one
could simultaneously test hypotheses about
information processing in the encoder and deco-
der, or in the channel and net and the decider.
Miller does not stress this, but it seems clear that
some scholars might sometimes wish to conduct
such analyses, and Millers approach is one of the
few approaches (if not the only one) that is broad
enough to facilitate such investigation.
A fth contribution is cross-level, cross-sub-
system research. Millers paradigm even affords
the possibility of simultaneous cross-level, cross-
subsystem research. For example, the breadth of
LST enables a researcher to formulate and test
hypotheses about information processing in the
encoder and decoder at both the group and
organizational levels simultaneously. It is safe to
say that no other extant theory (systems theory or
otherwise) affords this possibility.
A sixth major contribution made by LST lies in
the detailed analysis of types of systems, as
demonstrated by Millers (1978, pp. 1639)
discussion of the variety of systems concept.
Millers discussion includes notions such as
conceptual systems, system states, units, compo-
nents, subsystems, suprasystems, joint systems
partipotential systems and so forth.
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
Living SystemsTheory and Social EntropyTheory 293
The seventh contribution lies in the distinction
that Miller (1978, pp. 1639) made between
concrete and abstracted systems. Concrete sys-
tems use objects such as individuals as the basic
unit of analysis. In contrast, abstracted systems
use relationships such as the social role as the
unit of analysis (Miller, 1978, p. 19). This is a
major difference between the systems appro-
aches of Miller (1978) and Parsons (1951). Miller
chose to study concrete systems, while Parsons
chose abstracted systems with the role (rather
than the concrete individual) as the system
component, or basic unit of analysis (Parsons,
1979). Miller (1978, pp. 2022) made a signicant
contribution by explaining in detail why a
concrete-systems model is preferred over the
abstracted-systems approach.
An eighth contribution is Millers (1978, pp. 9
22) discussion of physical space and time. This is
important, because he chose to situate his
concrete approach in physical space-time, while
some other social-systems theorists, most nota-
bly Parsons (1951) rejected the space-time frame-
work. Parsons (1979) chooses instead to use
dimensions such as cultural space or social
A ninth contribution lies in Millers emphasis
on information processing. As noted above, 12 of
the critical subsystems (including the two dual
subsystems, the boundary and the reproducer),
process information. Further, Miller also empha-
sizes information processing in his cross-level
analyses, and makes further important contribu-
tions such as his analysis of information over-
The tenth contribution of LST lies in the
detailed analysis of matter-energy processing.
As noted above, 10 of the critical subsystems
(again counting the reproducer and the bound-
ary) deal with matter-energy processing. This is
an issue that is incredibly important, but has
rather inexplicably been woefully neglected in
most social-systems theories (see Bailey, 1990,
The analysis of entropy qualies as the
eleventh contribution of LST. Miller emphasizes
the role of entropy in the living system, and
discusses the relation of entropy to information.
A further contribution is the presentation of
cross-level hypotheses dealing with entropy
(Miller, 1978, pp. 110111). The emphasis on
entropy, coupled with his analyses of equili-
brium and homeostasis, provides a link between
19th and 20th century equilibrium theory, and
late 20th century and 21st century nonequili-
brium theory, such as Prigogines (1955) analysis
of systems that are far from equilibrium, and
Baileys (1990, 1994) Social Entropy Theory
A12th contribution of LST is the recognition of
totipotential systems. Living Systems Theory is
one of the few approaches that emphasizes the
notion of a totipotential system. A totipotential
system is one that is fully self-sufcient. In
Millers terms, it is capable of successfully full-
ling all of its own 20 critical subsystem processes.
That is, all of its 20 subsystems are fully
functioning, with no help needed from external
systems, or systems at different levels of the
nested hierarchy (Miller, 1978, p. 18). This is a
very important notion that is totally neglected by
most systems theory.
A 13th contribution of LST, and one that is
clearly related to contribution twelve, is the
notion of a partipotential system (Miller, 1978,
p. 18). A partipotential system cannot carry out
all needed critical subsystem processes, in direct
contrast to a totipotential system that is fully self-
sufcient. Partipotential systems thus require
help of some sort from some other system or
systems in order to function properly. Their
relations with other systems may take a number
of forms such as parasitic, symbiotic, or be
characterized by different forms of dispersal,
such as upward dispersal, downward dispersal,
lateral dispersal, or outward (external) dispersal
(Miller, 1978).
The 14th major contribution in LST is the
innovative approach to the structure-process
issue, as previously noted. Social-systems theory
has long been criticized as being overly static.
Critics have charged that system theory, parti-
cularly equilibrium theory, emphasizes structure
at the expense of process (Bailey, 1990, 1994).
Critics say further that systems theory provides a
snapshot, or cross-sectional picture of system
structure, but is overly conservative, and inade-
quate for the study of system change (Collins,
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
294 K. D. Bailey
1975). Miller (1978) took great pains to insure that
this was not the case for LST.
The analysis of all 20 critical subsystems
includes an analysis of process as well as of
structure. Miller (1978, p. 51) denes process as
all change over time of matter-energy or infor-
mation in a system. This emphasis on process
makes a signicant contribution by ensuring that
LST is not overly static, but is valuable for the
study of system change.
A fteenth contribution is the innovation
introduced into systems theory by Miller in the
concept of a joint subsystem. A joint subsystem
is a subsystem which belongs to two systems
(generally on the same level) simultaneously (see
Miller, 1978, p. 32). A common example is where
an individual sits on the boards of two different
corporations, resulting in a so-called interlock-
ing directorate. A signicant feature of this
concept is that it entails the simultaneous study
of two different systems. Again, this is rarely
seen in systems theory, which tends to focus on
one system at a time.
The sixteenth contribution is another innova-
tive concept developed by Miller, the concept of
dispersal. This notion is somewhat complex and
multifaceted, and includes at least four types of
dispersal: lateral dispersal, outward dispersal,
upward dispersal and downward dispersal
(Miller, 1978 p. 32). Generally in LST, the
subsystem is one level below the system being
studied. Thus, if one is studying the systemat the
organizational level, the subsystem is at the
group level or if one is studying the organism
level, the subsystem is at the organ level.
Dispersal occurs when a particular component
of the system (e.g. Group A is unable to full
the needed subsystem process by itself, but must
have help. One way to accomplish this is to
laterally receive help from another component
on the same level within the system (e.g. Group
B). This is lateral dispersal. Another type of
dispersal is to go below the current (group) level
and receive help from the organism level (an
individual person). This is called downward
dispersal. With both lateral and downward
dispersal, the solution to the problem may lie
within the larger system, so that it remains
totipotential. Other times however the system
proves to be partipotential. In these cases the
system must go above for aid, perhaps to the
community or society (or even the supranational)
level. This is called upward dispersal. In other
cases, the system may seek external aid from
another system (e.g. an external organization).
This is outward dispersal. As another example of
outward dispersal, if the subsystem in question
is a kidney, and it is dysfunctional, one could
have kidney dialysis, which would mean out-
ward dispersal to a machine, or artefact in
Millers (1978) terms.
A 17th contribution is another one of Millers
innovations, the notion of inclusion. An inclusion
is something from the environment that is not
part of the system, but is surrounded by it. An
inclusion can be either living or nonliving. At the
level of the organism, inclusions into the system
are artefacts or prostheses such as eye glasses,
hearing aids, or heart pacemakers.
A related notion introduced by LST (and the
18th contribution) is that of an artefact. An arte-
fact is an inclusion that is constructed by animals
or humans. For example, a tree can be an inclu-
sion if it is totally surrounded by the systems
boundaries. However, it is not an artefact, beca-
use it was not constructed by humans or animals.
However, an inclusion in the form of a spider
web, or beaver dam or television set would be an
artefact, as it was constructed by animals or
humans. Many inclusions that are not artefacts
will not serve to full critical subsystem pro-
cesses, although they could do this in some cases.
Artefacts are more likely to full critical sub-
systems processes, as when a pacemaker acts as a
timer for the organism. Miller calls an artefact
(such as a pacemaker) which performs a critical
process a prosthesis (Miller, 1978, p. 33).
Yet another innovation introduced into the
systems literature by Miller, and the nineteenth
contribution to be discussed, is the notion of an
adjustment process. Adjustment processes are
those processes that combat stress in a system.
They serve to keep key system variables in a
steady state, or within a certain range of
A 20th contribution of LST is the notion of a
critical subsystem. This distinction recognizes
that while some subsystems are merely conve-
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
Living SystemsTheory and Social EntropyTheory 295
nient for the system, or are essentially place
holders, other subsystems are of critical impor-
tance. The 20 critical subsystems carry out
processes that all living systems need to survive.
Living Systems Theory clearly represents the
most comprehensive analyses of living systems
ever made. The 20 contributions noted are not
meant to comprise an exhaustive list. Readers
can surely identify additional contributions from
Millers monumental work.
Despite its long list of contributions, LST (like
any complex theory) unfortunately displays
some limitations, including some unnished
work. Two limitations are the failure to develop
an abstracted theory to complement the concrete
theory of LST, and the failure to quantify LST.
Miller (1978) made a strong case for studying
concrete systems rather than abstracted systems.
Thus, his basic units of analysis were concrete
objects such as organs, individuals (organisms),
groups or organization, rather than social roles,
as advocated by Parsons (1979). Miller also felt
that it was important that systems theory be
quantied, as in the natural sciences. Ironically,
he made it difcult to achieve that goal for LST
because of the descriptive nature of this research.
By focusing upon objects rather than attributes
(variables) Miller removed from the analysis the
very entities (variables) that are most amenable
to quantication.
Thus, while Millers work is pioneering,
innovative, and very comprehensive and
detailed, it is not the quantitative approach that
he coveted. In order to make LST easily quanti-
able, Miller would have needed to move beyond
description and interpretation of concrete objects
such as organs, organisms, groups or organiza-
tions. He would have needed to focus instead on
the attributes or variables of such objects,
particularly the ones that are easily quantiable,
such as the objects age or size.
The problem is that while emphasizing the
distinction between concrete systems analysis
and abstracted systems analysis, Miller was not
focusing on key variables. I agree completely
with Miller that living systems theory should be
concrete, and should be set in physical-space
time. This is in direct contrast to the Parsonian
approach that emphasized the social role rather
than the individual, as the basic unit of analysis,
and used dimensions such as social space,
cultural space, psychological space etc. rather
than physical space-time.
It seems clear that the analytical dimensions
favoured by Parsons would be difcult to
measure and quantify. And for the most part,
Parsons (1951) did not attempt to quantify his
theory. But even though Millers concrete
approach is more amenable to quantication,
quantication does not immediately follow from
the descriptive strategy that Miller utilized.
The basic distinction most relevant here is not
the distinction between concrete and abstracted
systems, but between object analysis and vari-
able analysis. The descriptive analysis of systems
and their component parts and processes was the
obvious rst step for LST, and Miller did a
masterful job of completing this task. However,
what he did not complete was the variable
analysis. It is standard in quantitative elds from
physics to mathematics to statistics to emphasize
variables rather than objects (as Miller did).
The classic strategy in quantitative science is
not to emphasize the description of objects and
processes as Miller did, but instead to identify
key variables and study the relationships among
them. For example, in physics, classical
mechanics focuses on key variables such as work
and energy, and their relationships. Similarly,
thermodynamics identies ve key systems
variables. These are three extensive variables
(entropy, energy and volume), and two intensive
variables (temperature and pressure).
To illustrate the differences in the approaches,
consider a system such as the human society.
Miller (1978) focused upon dening the group,
and identifying examples of its 20 critical
subsystems. He left unanswered some equally
important questions concerning the key vari-
ables of the society and their interrelationships.
For example, what was the societys population
size, how was the society organized, what sort of
technology did it use, what was its level of living
and so forth.
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
296 K. D. Bailey
Even a paradigm as comprehensive as LST
cannot include everything. Miller specically did
not attempt to identify or study in a comprehen-
sive manner all of the chief variables of a system,
and the interrelationships among them. Miller
did recognize the existence of these variables, but
they were not his main emphasis. For example,
one variable of a concrete system mentioned by
Miller is its size (population). Another is its
number of subsystems (Miller, 1978, p. 17).
Fortunately, Social Entropy Theory (SET) has
emphasized the identication of key systems
variables, a task that Miller left unnished. We
will now discuss these key systems variables and
then demonstrate how SET complements LST.
Fortunately, Social Entropy Theory (Bailey,
1990,1994) did develop six key social-systems
variables, and these can be used to complement
LST. The six key macro-sociological variables of
SET are: population size (P), information (I), level
of living (L), organization (O), technology (T) and
space or territory (S). These PILOTS variables are
key systems variables. Together, they determine
the overall state of the system, including its
entropy. While PILOTS was developed for social
systems, it can easily be extended (with some
modications) to the cell, organ and organism
levels as well.
The six PILOTS variables apply to systems at
all of Millers eight levels. They can be seen as the
macro structural conditions under which 20
critical subsystems operate. That is, for any given
system at any level, it may be relatively easy or
relatively difcult (or intermediate) for the 20
critical subsystems to operate successfully.
Whether the work of the 20 critical subsystems
is facilitated or constrained (or treated neutrally)
depends in large part upon the level of each of
the six key PILOTS variables.
We are interested not only in the absolute size
or level of each of the key variables, but also in its
rate of change. For example, if the population
size of a given system grows suddenly and
rapidly, it can obviously tax the ability of the 20
critical subsystems to perform their functions. If
the reproducer is overly active, and/or the
boundary fails to function properly the systems
population can swell rapidly. This can put
pressure on not only the matter-energy subsys-
tems such as the ingestor, extruder and sup-
porter, but also on the information-processing
subsystems from the decider to the encoder.
Another crucial key variable is technology. A
casual reader of LST may be amazed to nd that
Miller has extended discussions of matter-energy
processing and information-processing with
barely a mention of technology.
Technology is not totally neglected in LST. It is
mentioned six times in Living Systems, generally
in passing. In some instances Miller does relate
technology to the subsystems. For example,
Miller (1978, p. 778) states that The extent of
development of a societys technology deter-
mines not only what sorts of things it is capable
of converting or producing but also how ef-
ciently it can carry out such processes. Various
of the other PILOTS variables are mentioned in
LST. System size is included in the discussion of
structure for every systemlevel, although it is not
always used to refer to the number of members
or population size (see Miller, 1978, p. 516).
Population is mentioned a number of times (but
primarily on pages 840844, 862866 and 946948
of Miller, 1978). Level of living is not mentioned,
but organization is of course mentioned repeat-
edly (but as an object, not as a variable) and
constitutes one of the eight key levels in LST.
Space is noted in a variety of contexts (see Bailey,
1995), but is treated differently in LST than in
SET. In SET the spatial border of a social system
is the systems boundary, but in LST the two
concepts of system boundary and national
border are distinct. Information is of course
studied repeatedly in LST, but it is dened
differently in LST than in SET.
Thus, while it is clear that Miller does not
neglect these key variables entirely, it is also clear
that they are not a central focus of LST. One of the
major problems is the degree to which key vari-
ables such as technology are viewed as external
to the system, rather than being an integral part
of it. Also, Millers jargon regarding technology
is somewhat arcane. He considers most examples
of technology such as computers or scanners to
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
Living SystemsTheory and Social EntropyTheory 297
be artefacts. Artefacts are types of inclusions,
and were discussed above (see contributions
number 17 and 18). Since artefacts and other
inclusions are considered to be part of the
environment rather than part of the system, this
keeps technology from being recognized as a
key system variable in LST as it is in SET.
Miller does acknowledge that an inclusion can
function as a subsystem. He says (Miller, 1978,
p. 33), An airline rm may have as an integral
component a computerized mechanical system
for making reservations which extends into all
its ofces. The basic conclusion, however, is
that in LST technology is primarily dened not
as a part of the system, but rather as part of
the external environment, unless shown to be
Thus, LSTs approach to the key PILOTS
variables is not one of neglect, but one of de-
emphasis. The key variables are important not
only as a foundation for quantication, but also
as a way to compare two or more systems at one
time, or the same system at different points in
time. It is difcult to fully understand a living
system without analysis of the six key variables,
as these variables so greatly affect the work of the
20 critical subsystems. Fortunately, it is not
necessary to revise LST to incorporate an
analysis of the six key variables. Rather, PILOTS
can be used to supplement, complement and
extend LST. In doing so we can also revise and
extends PILOTS.
To summarize, LST has virtually no discussion
of L (level of living) and little focused discussion
of population or technology. It does provide
considerable discussion of organization and
space, but conceptualizes them quite differently
than in SET. Only with I (information) is there
considerable overlap in the analyses of LST and
SET, but even here the differences are great.
While LST considers information in a rather
narrow technical sense, SET envisions informa-
tion as a broad category, even including such
concepts as values and norms within it. I will rst
dene the original denitions of the six key
PILOTS variables as used in SET. I will then
make PILOTS more compatible with LST by
adding energy (more correctly mater-energy) to
it. I will then show how the new formulation
EIPLOTS can be extended to the cell, organ and
organism levels.
It is clear that LST and SET are extremely and
immediately complementary. While it is cer-
tainly true that any system at any level will
utilize the 20 critical subsystems as Miller says, it
is not clear that they will all do so in an identical
fashion. For example, on a given level such as the
level of society, specic societal systems will vary
a great deal on the six key PILOTS dimensions.
How well these societies full the 20 critical
processes, and the particular components they
use to full them, can vary greatly depending on
the values of PILOTS possessed by the social
Perusal of Living Systems (Miller, 1978) shows
that Miller generally assumes that for a given
hierarchical level (e.g. the organization), that the
subsystems will be found one-level down. For
example, at the societal level, the subsystems
fullling the 20 critical processes in the original
formulation (before the addition of the commu-
nity level) were organizations, at the organiza-
tional level the subsystems will be at the group
level etc. It is also clear that many of the 20 critical
processes may not actually be fullled by the
subsystems at the assumed level, but often must
be dispersed, usually downwardly dispersed,
but sometimes also upwardly, or laterally or
outwardly dispersed (Miller, 1978).
One obvious hypothesis is that by determining
the values of the six key dimensions for a given
system, we can predict whether it will have to
use dispersal or not (i.e. be partipotential) or is in
fact totipotential, and so not in need of dispersal.
For example a small (P) organization with
inadequate technology (T) and a dearth of skilled
workers (I), may have many unlled positions
(O), and may have to utilize dispersal much more
to full the 20 critical processes than would a
larger (P) organization with more computers (T)
and a better-educated (I) staff.
Although PILOTS or IPLOTS complements
LST well, the PILOTS formulation is even more
valuable when we add energy to it explicitly, to
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
298 K. D. Bailey
form EIPLOTS. Now the presence of both energy
and information in SET makes it even more
complementary to LST, which emphasizes the
processing of both energy and information. The
value of EIPLOTS as a complement to LST is that
it provides the context for the operation of the 20
critical subsystems. In effect, LST makes a latent
assumption that all values of EIPLOTS are
sufcient for the 20 critical subsystems to operate
The reality is that the EIPLOTS dimensions
may not be sufcient for a given system. There
may not be enough employees in an organization
(P), or enough jobs (O), or there could be
insufcient technology (T) or an under-educated
staff (I). If these deciencies occur, then it is not at
all clear that subsystem processes such as
deciding, encoding, ingesting, transducing etc.
will occur efciently as Miller envisioned.
A little reection will show that the 20 critical
subsystem processes and the seven key EIPLOTS
dimensions are symmetrically related, but gen-
erally with a time lag that can very empirically
for specic systems, both within and between
hierarchical levels. For example, at time 1, the
operation of the 20 critical subsystems deter-
mines (at least in part) the future levels of
EIPLOTS, sometimes directly, and sometimes
more indirectly. The reproducer determines
future levels of (P). The decider can determine
(S) by specifying the location of systems bound-
aries, as when a city expands the city limits by
annexing rural land. The technical demands of
operations such as encoding and decoding
determine the type of technology that needs to
be purchased.
The operations of the 20 critical subsystems at
time 1 determine the particular levels of
EIPLOTS at time 2. Subsequently, these particu-
lar levels of EIPLOTS at time 2 serve to either
constrain or facilitate the operations of the 20
critical subsystems at time 3, and this interlock-
ing process of interrelationships between the 20
critical subsystems and the EIPLOTS dimensions
continues throughout the life of the system.
In addition to the interrelationships between
the 20 critical subsystems and EIPLOTS, there are
also clear symmetrical relationships among the
seven EIPLOTS dimensions, so that change in
one results in change in one or more others
(but perhaps only after a considerable time lag).
Each of the seven dimensions can be analysed
once as a dependent variable (as a function of the
other six), and six times as independent variables
in the respective equations of the six other
A point of congruence in LST and SET is that
both utilize the concept of entropy. However,
SET emphasizes entropy much more than LST
does. Entropy has been widely analysed both in
physics and in information theory (see Bailey,
1990, 1994). Both notions are directly relevant in
LST. Physical entropy applies directly to the 10
matter-energy processing subsystems, while sta-
tistical entropy as studied by Shannon (1949) and
others applies directly to the 10 information-
processing variables. The rst four key EIPLOTS
dimensions provide some direct measurement of
entropy. If the levels of energy (E), information
(I), population (P) and level of living (L) all went
to zero, this would indicate system death, and
maximum entropy. This would leave no viable
system to organize, or to utilize technology, or to
occupy space. Thus, the larger goal of the 20
critical subsystems is to combat entropy, and
keep it well-below maximum levels, as reected
in optimum values of EIPLOTS.
Living Systems Theory has had an impact far
beyond that indicated by measurements such as
citation indices. Its role in maintaining the
visibility and viability of systems theory is truly
immeasurable. Clearly, LST provides the most
comprehensive analysis of internal-system
operations with its presentation of the 20 critical
What is lacking in Living Systems Theory
is chiey the analysis of the key EIPLOTS
dimensions, as provided by Social Entropy
Theory. The EIPLOTS dimensions are generally
relatively easy to measure in numerical terms,
Copyright 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Syst. Res. 23, 291^300 (2006)
Living SystemsTheory and Social EntropyTheory 299
thus furthering Millers dream of a quantied
systems theory. Together, LST and SET provide a
comprehensive analysis of both the macro
structure (as indicated by EIPLOTS) and the 20
critical internal processes of all living systems at
all eight levels.
Bailey KD. 1990. Social Entropy Theory. State University
of New York Press: Albany.
Bailey KD. 1994. Sociology and the New Systems Theory:
Toward a Theoretical Synthesis. State University of
New York Press: Albany.
Bailey KD. 1995. The use of space in living
systems theory: applications. Systems Practice 8: 85
Collins R. 1975. Conict Sociology: Toward an Explana-
tory Approach. Academic Press: New York.
Miller JG. 1978. Living Systems. McGraw Hill:
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Miller JL, Miller JG. 1992. Greater than the sum of its
parts I: subsystems which process both matter-
energy and information. Behavioral Science 37: 138.
Parsons T. 1951. The Social System. The Free Press:
Glencoe, Illinois.
Parsons T. 1979. Concrete systems and abstracted
systems. Contemporary Sociology 8: 696705.
Prigogine I. 1955. Introduction to Thermodynamics of
Irreversible Processes. Charles C. Thomas: Springeld,
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300 K. D. Bailey