Exploring Change

The lesson learned from second-order cybernetics and Luhman’s social theory is that (human) systems have a function and their reason of being (raison d’être) is to sustain that function. This is again rather paradoxical. For a system to sustain its function, it has to change, otherwise, as we have seen, a system ceases to exist. A system has to become what it is not, and yet remain the same.




Statement: A system has to become what it is not, and yet remain the same.

Aspect: Tradition, Principle: We got to move, Principle page: Principles and Ground Rules

Statement page Statement
Exploring Change A system has to become what it is not, and yet remain the same.
Some-thing from No-thing The relationship between things, including humans, is what matters. Something or someone cannot stand or be taken on its own.

Principles, aspects and statements overview

In Laws of Form (LoF) terms, this means that there must be a difference, which means in this context that a (human) system has to adapt to changing conditions in its environment. By the way, this restates that a system cannot exist on its own. A system is dependent on its environment, which, from the standpoint of the system, is populated with other systems that induce changes in the environment again as a result of the need to sustain. It is indeed a reflexive domain. And it is safe to say that the constant factor in life is movement. We got to move!
alles blijft, alles gaat voorbij, alles blijft voorbijgaan
everything stays, everything passes, everything keeps passing
Jules Deelder




Statement: The constant factor in life is movement.

Aspect: Reflexive Domain, Principle: We got to move, Principle page: Principles and Ground Rules

Statement page Statement
Exploring Change The constant factor in life is movement.
Self-Reference in a Three-Valued System Embrace the paradox, i.e., a difference in what was previously stated and therefore contradicting what was said before. Differences keep setting things in motion. Without differences we cease to exist. Therefore, change is inevitable, in fact, it is a necessity for living.
The Autopoietic Turn Humans and social systems operate autonomously and my react when irritated.

Principles, aspects and statements overview

The connection between this conception of change and EMont can be found in the PQR formula. Recall that in SSM a sharp distinction is made between the P–what and the Q–how. The P–what and the R–why can be seen as the reason of being. The Q–how’s are observable, they are particular ways of doing things. A Q, a way of doing things, may be replaced by another Q due to changes in the environment in order to stick to the P-R reason of being.

The relation between P-R and Q is explored to investigate the possibilities and limitations of change. Three options for change can be identified:

  • Same Q – same P-R, but with differences in the environment as manifested in changes in environmental conditions;
  • Different Q – same P-R, a more radical way of adapting to environmental changes by adopting a different way of doing things;
  • Different P-R, the system is in transition from one reason of being to another one, or more formally, a system is replaced by another one. It could be the case that a system ceases to exist altogether, if no new reason of being can be found.

Due to the in principle endless recursiveness of the PQR formula as used in EMont, overlap between the three options is possible. For instance, in a large organization comprised of several units, a particular unit can be assigned a different task, although the company as a whole remains doing the same things. The three options can thus been seen as typical patterns to be used and combined as (mental) tools to think about change.