Notes on Baccalaureate Degrees in Systems Science

George Mobus and Michael Kalton have written a compelling argument for developing Baccalaureate Degree programs in Systems Science. Here are my notes.

Is Education Fulfilling its Mandate and Vision?

Modern education systems have failed to generate citizens capable of meaningfully addressing social issues at scale: war, poverty, disease, etc.

We’ve designed our education systems to produce highly specialized workers with high earning potential, but little awareness of the relationship between their work and the rest of the world.

There is a false dichotomy between learning about the world in general, and learning to do a single job well. This dichotomy can be resolved by systems thinking.

Education should prioritize systems thinking — an approach that empowers people to understand the fundamental nature of the world, how we understand the world, and become effective problem solvers in any domain.

Systems thinking and the Systems approach

Systems thinking won’t solve the world’s problems, but if enough people learn to use it we can reverse our downward trend. We all think systemically to some degree, just as all of us have basic numerical literacy, but most of us don’t do so in a rigorous or reliable way.

Why Systems Science?

Systems science provides a methodology for using the systems approach reliably and rigorously. It is unique among the sciences in that its concepts can be applied to all other sciences.

Systems Science Content

The key principles of systems science apply in every field of study. Some of these include:

  1. Systems are made up of interacting components
  2. Systems have boundaries
  3. Systems exist within environments
  4. Systems are composed of subsystems
  5. Systems are embedded in larger systems

These truths apply whether we are studying thoughts (patterns of neurons), social systems (organizations and governments,) or living systems (organisms.)

Early work by theoretical biologists played a crucial role in developing our understanding of systems principles. Systems science provides a framework that specialists can use to communicate across disciplines.

Psychology of Learning

The principles of systems science are the most general schema (model) the brain can hold. If we know, in general, what to look for when encountering a new system, we can learn the specifics of any system more rapidly.

Skill and Knowledge Transfer and Life-long Learning

Students of systems science will have a deep understanding of systems which will form the basis for life-long learning across disciplines. Understanding the world as a system of systems is the foundation for accumulating new knowledge throughout life.


Efforts to develop General System Theory and create a legitimate full-fledged Systems Science in the mid 20th century failed due to our lack of understanding in areas such as non-linear dynamics and chaos theory. This is changing largely as a result of cheap and powerful computation.

B.A./B.S. degrees in Systems Science will give students a modern version of Liberal Arts degrees that prepare them for 21st century jobs.

Shingai Thornton

Shingai Thornton