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Systems and Boundaries

Deciding boundaries, what is over there, what is mine and yours – this gives order. Systems need a boundary setting order, otherwise they would not be able to distinguish which elements/events they should attribute to themselves and which they should attribute to the world (environment). He, who does not know if his thoughts are his own or if they are those of others, loses his psychological integration. A team which is unclear whether someone is a member or not, is not capable of functioning. A clinic, as an organisation, cannot educate the children of its employees (unless it immediately understands itself as a school, i.e. changes its identity). At the same time, boundaries of autopoietic systems cannot be rigid, otherwise the system could neither change itself, nor learn to react to changes in the environment. Closed boundaries would be tantamount to death of the system.

The boundaries of a system are always recognisable in that there is a difference in complexity. The environment is always richer, more interlinked than the system. The system must choose what it refers to: an eagle chooses different wavelengths of light to a human for vision. An owl hears differently to a whale. Siemens takes up other information than does Telecom. Thus, for every system, the world is the horizon, which encompasses all achievable and all unachievable possibilities. However, for every system, the environment is the horizon, which encompasses the updated and the potential irritation possibilities.