"The subsystem at the perimeter of a system that holds together the components which make up the system, protects them from environmental stresses, and excludes or permits admission to various sorts of matter-energy and information"
This is J. MILLER's definition in his list of the 20 critical subsystems of any system (1978, p.3)
In B. BANATHY's words: "The boundaries of a system delimit the system space and set aside from the environment all those entities that make up the system" (1973, p.85)
K. BAUSCH describes boundaries as the "parametric conditions that delimits and define a system and set it apart from its environment"(Glossary- Personal communication)
The concept of boundary is basically ambiguous, in two different ways.
First, the boundary separates the system from its environment by defining what is inside and what is outside the system. In some cases however, it is difficult to distinguish precisely if some elements of the boundary belong to the system or to its environment… or to both.
Besides, the boundary does not define an absolute enclosure. It allows some specific inputs and outputs and bars others. It is selectively permeable.
In L. CARLSON-SABELLI and H. SABELLI's words: "Boundaries, when they exist, are interphases where opposites coexist, neither sharply delimited as in logic, nor simply gradual transitions, but actual areas of interchange and/or conflict, as illustrated by cellular membranes, and by national boundaries. The basins relative to two attractors, for instance, can penetrate each other in a manner which is topologically very complicated, rendering the outcome undetermined" (1992, p.681).
Furthermore, the boundary may be open or closed, in relation to the circumstances which affect the system and its environment.
T.F.H. ALLEN and T.B. STARR (1982, p.262) define the boundary as "a distinction made by an observer" and add: "Artificial boundaries are drawn arbitrarily and haphazardly. Natural boundaries are still arbitrary, but tend to be robust under transformation. That is, natural boundaries coincide for many distinct criteria".
Quoting G.H. GOODE and R.E. MACALL, G. P. SHCHEDROVITZKY writes "… boundaries pass over broad vague territories and the search for their precise position would elicit large but fruitless controversies" (1966, p.35)
These difficulties move G. WEINBERG to write: "Interface" is a more useful word than "boundary", for it reminds us to pay attention to the connection and not just the separation between system and environment" (1975, p.147)
Boundaries of physical systems are at the atomic or molecular level. In living systems they become organized as permeable membranes. In an organization they can be material enclosures as well as the behavioral result of abstract criteria of membership.
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To cite this page, please use the following information:
Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]
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