Quora Answer: Is The Profession Of Systems Engineering Dying?

Oct 18 2014

As an out of work Systems Engineer it is easy to think the profession is dying when one cannot get a job doing it.

However, normally insinuations of demise are premature, especially when something is in the process of being born. However, the question is what is being born? My research on General Schemas Theory suggests what is being born is not what everyone thinks is being born, i.e. Systems Engineering. I have been concerned for a long time about the foundations of Systems Engineering. If it is going to be an academic discipline then it must contribute to our knowledge in a fundamental way, like Software Engineering has since its inception. But Systems Engineering is content just to follow along holding on to the apron strings of Software Engineering, not really contributing anything fundamentally new to our understanding. When we look across the curricula of Systems Engineering Masters programs what we see is the same thing being taught everywhere. There is nothing new under the sun as far as these programs are concerned. For instance I do not know of any program that actually teachings Systems Science as the basis for Systems Engineering. I created a sample syllabus for a course in Systems Science for Systems Engineers but no school to whom I have presented it has shown any interest as yet. Seehttp://blog.onticity.net/2012/08/systems-science-for-systems-software.html and alsohttp://blog.onticity.net/2012/08/first-tutorial-in-systems-science.html. Until Systems Engineers actually know something about and understand and extend to their own discipline the sixty years of General Systems Science research that has happened to my mind the discipline will not really have gotten started.

However, merely understanding Systems Science as the basis of Systems Engineering is not enough. What is necessary for a genuine academic discipline is to contribute something unique to knowledge which is the basis for the education of Systems Engineers different from what is taught in other disciplines that is a genuine contribution to our knowledge. Systems Engineering just by practical application of Systems Science does not accomplish that feat. It is my belief that General Schemas Theory does make that contribution. General Schemas Theory asks what is the next higher level of abstraction beyond a System. I studied this intensely as part of my Ph.D. work in Systems Engineering {See Emergent Design (emergentdesign) on about.me) and concluded that it must be something that recognizes the difference between Schemas of different kinds like: Form, Pattern, Domain etc which are at the same level of abstraction as the System Schema but different. I discovered that no one had posited such a discipline previously because I could not find any precursors in the literature. And once I developed the S-prime hypothesis as a basis for instituting a research program in General Schemas Theory then I realized that if there were such a discipline at the next higher level of abstraction from Systems Science, called Schemas Science perhaps, then this would indeed provide a fundamental and new perspective on Science and Engineering because although they used schemas all the time they were not self conscious about that use and they had no idea of the relations between the schemas that they were using. Such a discipline that studied schemas would in effect provide the internal coherence between the disciplines of Science and Engineering, which in effect are two sides of the same coin. Science strives to discover knowledge about nature or human culture, and Engineering attempts to apply that knowledge to provide new supports to the technological infrastructure underlying culture and interfacing with nature. Schemas Theory provides a way to understand the a priori ontological projections that the work of Science and Engineering are based upon. For instance, all designs are based on the projections of schemas on nature.

Interestingly enough the schemas of nature are more complex than we as a species project as a priori syntheses and that is the basis for our feeling that our technological infrastructure is artificial. But the key point from a Systems Engineering perspective is that our discipline is actually much wider than we suspect. Our discipline is not just an overdue implementation of Systems Science in Engineering. Rather our discipline deals with all the schemas, not just systems, and thus is misnamed in a fundamental way, i.e. we should really call our discipline Schemas Engineering or something else that suggests that we deal with all the a priori schemas in their internal coherence not just the systems Schema. This is already true in practice but unrecognized because we do not have the vocabulary or concepts to recognize the true nature of our own disciplines. This bodes for a fundamental paradigm, or even episteme perhaps even an ontological change in the discipline in the future when we run up against the narrowness of our conception of it in our engineering work, and we reflect that back in the development of the fundamentals of the discipline. Recognizing that we indeed use other schemas such as facet, monad, pattern, form, (system), meta-system, domain, world, kosmos, pluriverse in our work on complex systems and meta-systems that we build is the key to a fundamental rethinking of what we are doing and to my mind that will be the actual beginning of our discipline, not as an imitation of Systems Science or Software Engineering but as a sui generis and emergent discipline that seeks to understand the inner coherence between all the schemas that we embody in designed artifacts that improve the technological infrastructure of our culture in its rich relation to nature.

The problem is not whether this new conception of Schemas Engineering is practical, but the problem is at a fundamental level Systems Engineering is impractical because of its over reliance on one schema for understanding the artificial technological infrastructures that we design and construct. Systems Science is not a broad enough foundation for the kind of Engineering we actually do. And when we actually figure that out and develop General Schemas Theory as the basis of our Schemas Engineering then we will actually be providing research into the coherence of all the schemas used by Science and Engineering in general that befits the position of Systems Engineering as an top level Engineering discipline that encompasses all other Engineering disciplines in order to build Whole systems that work and extend the technological infrastructure of culture and manages the interface with nature properly, i.e. in a way that does not degrade nature any more than necessary. There is in this vision much for us as Systems Engineers to do that is new and innovative because it opens up a whole horizon of research into the way we actually build our technological products and how we understand them. And of course this challenges the status quo in our Systems Engineering programs and in our work as Systems Engineers because it means that our discipline has really not been born yet. We are just at the beginning of a new continent that needs to be explored and settled and our obsession with the systems schema is only the beginning of a journey of intellectual discovery that we have not yet taken. So prospects in the future for this new discipline that attempts to understand and then apply all the schemas coherently are good, but it is probably going to be a long time before this is actually recognized within the discipline, and our educational programs are aligned with this need. But I am optimistic about the future due to the fact that Jack Ring and Len Troncale have initiated cooperation between INCOSE and ISSS organizations and the new framework for Graduate Education has a small section on Systems Science and Systems Thinking. This is a good beginning.

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