What is Conservation Theory in Biology

Systems theory or the theory of living systems

Subjective didactics, and thus also our pedagogy, is an integral part of it systemic approach is based, which is mainly shaped in the present form by the Chilean neurobiologist Maturana and his student Varela. In their joint work "The Tree of Knowledge", the organization of living systems in relation to human knowledge is presented.
The theory of living systems is one Model description the connections from the smallest particle to the universe. Acting subjects (we humans) are understood as living systems that exist in a certain environment (setting). This environment is called milieu designated. In principle, all systems are milieu-dependent, i.e. they can only exist in a certain milieu. For example, humans need the environment of the “life-friendly” planet earth. On the moon, humans can only survive for a limited period of time with great difficulty and the use of an immense technical material store. Living systems are connected to this milieu in a mutual dependence or mutual influence.

Milieu dependency

However, this milieu dependency is not limited to the survivability of the systems. It also influences them with regard to their decisions, moods, emotions, etc. The elementary idea of ​​general systems theory is that Networking of nested systems. To put it bluntly: Everything is connected to everything in some way.

This still appears very plausible within the "human" system with its microsystems such as limbs, organs, cells, atoms, etc. Understanding more complex processes in congruence with the size of the system under consideration becomes much more difficult. In a group of people, group dynamic processes are far more difficult to predict than the course of relationships between two people. The possibility that a single person can influence the mood or emotions of an entire arena cannot be denied. Staging this in a controlled or targeted manner is never predictable with absolute probability. So there is no perfect determinism in the universe. Many things are just as unpredictable as a roulette ball.

Properties of Living Systems

The systemic approach ascribes certain properties to living systems, which mark and characterize them as such. This includes the concept of Autopoiesis, Structure determination and Self-referentiality. These properties are briefly explained below.

Autopoiesis and autonomy

The decisive characteristic of living systems is their autopoietic organization. That’s hers basic autonomy meant. A system is then autonomous when it is able to specify its own. Autopoiesis also means the property of maintaining and realizing oneself from an internal dynamic and relatively independent of the environment. The system is therefore responsible for its maintenance and renewal itself. The simplest example is permanent cell renewal in living beings. This is regulated independently and autonomously by the organism. Autopoiesis can therefore be understood as “doing yourself” or “maintaining yourself”. A living system is characterized by the ability to produce and reproduce the elements that make up it, thereby defining its unity. Each individual cell is the result of a network of internal processes in the system.

Structural coupling

The connection between system and milieu can be understood as a structural coupling. The system is environment dependent, whereby the environment is also influenced by the system. Living beings and the environment act as a mutual source of interference. And these in turn can trigger changes in the status of the other system. This process of mutual structural changes is known as structural coupling. A fish in an aquarium can be understood as such a system. The surrounding water is in this case as an environment. The fish influences this water through its natural behavior, it may eat parasites or algae and excrete excrement. With all these activities he influences the water quality, i.e. his environment. This in turn has an influence on the fish through various factors: temperature, quality, abundance of food, etc.


Autopoietic systems are energetically open, but organizationally closed and self-referential. The material and energetic In living systems, for example, openness becomes apparent through the supply of energy through ingestion of food. Energy such as heat is also absorbed and can be used, but also given off to the environment. However, this openness only relates to the structure of the systems. Your organization itself remains the same for life and is closed, just as living systems are also described as closed systems as a whole. The system is separated from its milieu by a system edge, but is still able to be in contact with it through its energetic openness.

The principle of self-organization

Living systems organize themselves. This means that they organize processes that arise out of themselves, that is, that are not imposed from outside. From inner constellations and conditions arise orders that are appropriate to the individual and that arise from himself. Systems can therefore change themselves according to their organization. And this without external intervention.
This does not mean that when working with groups Intervention, but support ensures the self-realization of the individuals in a group. The group models itself according to its needs, ideas and basic requirements, taking into account the current situation of all members.

Structure determination

Living systems are structure-determined, i.e. determined by their own structure. Although this structure of an autopoietic system is generally open to change, this change can only be triggered by the milieu, but not determined from the outside. Only the respective individual system itself determines the degree of change. Didactically, this means that none linear-causal planning leads to the desired result of behavior change. What is needed is an appropriate incentive which is intended to induce the system to rethink its behavior (perturbation). And consequently to verify one's own structure for one's own self-recognized advantage. The incentive must be chosen in such a way that it neither causes excessive nor insufficient demands on the system. However, he has to from subjective interest be for the system.

An example to clarify: A randomly assembled group of 10 people should become a productive team. If the approach was chosen incorrectly, the team idea is imposed on a group. The members should - possibly against their will - be "pressed" into a functioning work team. Interpersonal problems and completely different work attitudes may also make things more difficult. With pressure and threats, this group can hardly be persuaded to work together as a team in solidarity. However, if a perturbation in the middle stimulus range affects all group members, and each member can do one subjective advantage Recognize in the common form of work "team" and thus also the need to change behavior with regard to the other team members, this will be the more effective solution in the long term.

What does systems theory mean for everyday pedagogical work?

At the same time, one of the most important statements of subjective didactics becomes clear here: If the learners are dealing with autopoietic and operationally closed systems, it can only be about stimulating learning environments to accomplish. This means creating incentive structures that are as promising as possible and appropriate to the subject in order to enable perturbations. Only when such a system makes sense of reacting to a perturbation will it do so. A sustainable reorganization of the structure is only possible if it adopts an affirmative stance.

On the theory of social systems

The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann developed the theory of social systems on the basis of Talcott Parson's structural-functional theory in the 1960s. Luhmann differentiates between three types of social systems: interaction systems, organizational systems and social systems.
An example of a Interaction system would be a car dealer's sales pitch with a customer. The inside of the system includes the sales talk, the sale of the car and the handover of the car. Everything that happens around the sales area is the milieu, i.e. the exterior. The interaction system ends when the purchase has been made and the trading partners go their own way.

Organizational systems are for example sports clubs. Certain conditions are attached to membership in such a system, such as membership fees, recognition of the association's statutes, etc. There are also different roles and functions within these systems. There are players, coaches, chairmen, etc. The interior of this system is further characterized by internal courses of action that do not match the system's milieu. The different functions of the members organized in the organizational system apply only within the system and only among other members. The referee has the right and the power to dispose of the rules and their interpretation during a training game. And of course, to have a decisive influence on victory and defeat. He is not entitled to this role outside of the organizational system.

Interaction and organization systems

All systems of interaction and organization are part of the largest social system, the Social system. This, in turn, is not an interaction system, since all people belong to society, even if they are not currently in interaction with one another. It is and not an organizational system, as there are no formal conditions attached to membership in the social system.
According to Luhmann, social systems are also understood as autopoietic, self-referential systems.
The smallest component of social systems are Communications. These consist of communication, information and understanding.
A distinction must therefore be made here between a message and information: The message and its information content must be understood as such information. Without understanding, communication cannot be realized, cannot be observed. It remains a perception.

The autopoietic function of social systems

In order to maintain and renew themselves, systems have to reproduce permanently. What the plant cell does in the biological sense with the constant production of necessary substances (photosynthesis) is the permanent connection of communications in social systems.

Social systems only exist when communication is continuously linked to communication. If, for example, two people are talking and one of them sinks into a daydream during this conversation or cannot connect his communications to those of his interlocutor, there is a risk that these two people will simply diverge and thus the social system that they had formed, is resolved. According to Luhmann, without communication there can be no human relationships and even no human life.
Teams are also social systems. According to Luhmann's theory, developing a team further would mean improving communication skills in the social system. It would therefore be a matter of enabling everyone involved in the system to communicate with one another in a way that can be linked.

Communication skills

Communication skills are therefore a key aspect to consider when working with groups. Bullying and bullying are impressive examples of lack of or poor communication in the workplace. Misunderstandings are often the result of an inadequate flow of information or unequal communication structures. This in turn leads to quarrels and anger. It is obvious that such conditions can paralyze, block or even destroy a group, a team or a social system. Only where open and honest communication is possible can grievances be eliminated directly, differences of opinion discussed and conflicts resolved properly.

Leif has now officially been involved in experiential education for more than half of his life. In the second half of the first half (studies), he was sometimes saddened to learn that there are more books than time. And then there are the topics (like systems theory) with which people can spend their entire lives. Sometimes even without always fully understanding them 🙂 Squeezing the system theory (s) into 1200 words can therefore actually not work. And that was exactly the initial incentive ... Because according to Luhmann: Nothing is written even less!