System description as scientific idealism

Copyright 2016 Graham Berrisford.

One of about 300 papers at Last updated 29/03/2017 00:40


This paper applies scientific idealism to business system description.


Premises. 1

A business has a logical boundary. 2

A business is like a sentient animal 2

System descriptions as typing things. 3

Systems descriptions as fuzzy matches to operational systems. 3

A systems description can idealise many operational systems. 4

System descriptions as verbal communications. 4

System descriptions as written records. 4



The scientific idealist view of systems can be represented in a triangle.

System description

Abstract system descriptions

<create and use>             <idealise>

System describers <observe and envisage> Concrete systems


Abstract system descriptions are types; concrete systems are things that instantiate system descriptions

Note that a discrete real-world entity cannot rightly be called a system until a system is described.

An individual entity – a named business or machine – cannot rightly be called a system if there is no system description.

Also, infinite systems might be abstracted from any business or machine we observe or envisage.

Also, envisaged systems (“target systems”) can be purely imaginary – never realised in a particular thing.


How does the philosophy above apply to enterprise architecture?

The triangle below marries scientific idealism to enterprise architecture.

Enterprise architecture

Enterprise architectures

<create and use>               <idealise>

Architects    <observe and envisage>   Operational systems


A business system architect is a describer who describes a reality – an organised collection of inter-related actors and activities - as “a system”.

Architects both observe (baseline) business systems and envisage (target) business systems.

A business system description defines a set of roles played by actors in inter-related activities to maintain system state and/or produce other desired effects.

In creating a system description, architects select actors and activities that are “architecturally significant” to the nature of the system.

An “architecture definition” is a system description; it is a type to which any number of operational systems may conform, well enough.

Social and business systems designers expect a concrete social system to be an imperfect realisation of an abstract system description.

Software system designers expect a concrete software system to be a perfect realisation of an abstract system description.


A business has a logical boundary

In perceiving or describing the world around us, we naturally parcel it up into distinct entities and events.


Leibniz promoted several principles, including the "identity of indiscernibles", sometimes referred to as Leibniz's Law.

“Two distinct things cannot have all their properties in common.

If every predicate possessed by x is also possessed by y and vice versa, then entities x and y are identical; to suppose two things indiscernible is to suppose the same thing under two names.”


The most obvious property that two distinct things cannot share is their place in the space-time continuum.

The boundaries we draw between things in space very often coincide with phase boundaries in the material world.

Each phase of physical matter (gas, liquid, solid) ends at a transitional point, a spatial interface, called a phase boundary.

It appears to our senses that the matter on one side of a boundary is immiscible with the matter on the other side of the boundary.


The physical world is a continuum of matter and energy in which we perceive or define boundaries.

We perceive the colours of the rainbow to be divided – according to the nature of our sensory mechanisms.

We define a football match starts and ends with the referee’s whistle.

We draw lines on a map to define the borders of countries.

Even the phase boundaries in matter are somewhat fuzzy at an atomic level.

In general, the boundaries between things are logical – meaning they depend on how we sense or choose to describe reality.


Process improvement methods like Six Sigma describe a business in terms of suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers (SIPOC).

A business is a bounded network of actors performing processes that consume inputs from suppliers and provide outputs to customers.

The boundary is logical – meaning observers decide what is inside and outside, what goes in and comes out.

A business is like a sentient animal

A business is like a sentient animal in that it:

·         is bounded activity system

·         is composed of discrete organs/units that interact to perform processes.

·         interacts with entities and events in its environment.

·         is influenced by entities, events and forces in its environment.

·         creates and uses memories of actors and activities it wants to monitor or direct.

·         proceeds on the presumption its memories are accurate

·         may fail its memories are inaccurate.

System descriptions as typing things

Sentient animals perceive things to be discrete, and remembers them in some kind of mental model.

Typifying things helps organisms to react to and act on things in speedy, efficient and effective ways.


Similarly, a business typifies entities and events it wants to monitor or direct.

E.g. a business use the concept called “payment” to typify money amounts that it receives.

Systems descriptions as fuzzy matches to operational systems

Are there are any absolutely perfect instantiations/examples/embodiments of the descriptive type “circle”?

If one does exist, would you be able to detect for sure that it is indeed exactly conformant in the minutest detail to that abstract type?

In practice, the abstract definition of a circle is applied to drawings and other things that are near enough circular.

Because it has proved useful to apply the general properties of perfect circles to specific arrangements of things that are approximately circular.


Generally, you may perceive an arrangement of matter or energy as instantiating or embodying one or more descriptive types.

·         a human being as an instance of “employee”, “customer” and “good husband”.

·         one performance of a symphony as embodying the type described in the symphony’s score, and the type “manual labour”.

·         the actual work to resurface a pot-holed road as an example of the type “repair project” and (again) “manual labour”.

Often, a thing instantiates or embodies a type only partly, or fuzzily, just well enough for practical purposes.


To describe a thing as embodying one property of a type may necessarily imply it has another property.

Because: a type can have a property that relates to or derives from one or more of its other properties.

When we perceive a thing to conform to the type "planet" (defined as a large body in orbit around a star), it necessarily has a time dimension as well. 

When we perceive a thing to conform to the type "circle" (defined as line drawn around a point that is everywhere equidistant from that point), its area can be derived from its radius. 

A systems description can typify many operational systems

Given a reality, many descriptions may be applied to it.

Conversely, given a description, there is no limit to the number of things that might be perceived as instances of it.

Given a description of a system, many operational systems may match it.

Given a description of a universe, any number of universes might match it.

Indeed, it is fashionable in physics to discuss the possibility that the universe we know is but one in a multiverse.


A business can be described from many viewpoints, at many levels of detail.

A business system architecture – being an abstraction - can be realised in many different businesses.

System descriptions as verbal communications

The mental models or types that intelligent organisms hold in mind may be vague, blurred and imprecise descriptions of things.

However, some intelligent organisms have languages they use to communicate facts about things.

The use of a language makes it possible to share facts about things.

Verbal language is so flexible it has vastly increased the number of types humans can use to describe things.

System descriptions as written records

Having a language to communicate facts about things (synchronously) gives organisms in a group a competitive advantage

Humans have gone further, they have developed the written record to preserve facts about things for subsequent (asynchronous) inspection.

Clay tablets were used in ancient Egypt to record business transactions.

The Domesday book (defining the English social structure, land, land ownership and use in the 11th century) has been described as a triumph for the written record.