I have a standard rant that I give to my students during my graduate SE course at UMBC. It goes something like this:
Then I go on to explain how science can investigate and explain the parts of a system but not the emergent properties of a completed system. Emergence is a mystery to scientists. How do systems exhibit properties that will only manifest when components interact with one another? System-level properties that are different than the individual component level properties? These system-level properties cannot be predicted.
Prediction is the main concern of Science. It is all about discovering laws of the universe that can be predicted. These laws are then applied by Engineers so that a new technology can be created to meet mankind's needs. Scientists find knowledge, Engineers uses that knowledge to create or change the world we live in.
But here’s the thing. There is no science to explain ‘emergence’. It just is. And yet ‘emergence’ is a chief concern for a Systems Engineer. Even the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook Version 4.0 states:
But how can this “analysis of interactions between system elements” occur when you have no science to back you up. But you may ask — Don’t we have “Systems Science?” Sure but “Systems Science” can not help us when it comes to ‘emergence’. Again a quote from the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook:
So if we don’t have a science, what do we do then? Well, we model. And that’s why Model-Based Systems Engineering is a critical concern within our profession. That’s why the INCOSE SE Vision document, A World in Motion, Systems Engineering Vision 2025, states that:
- “Model-based approaches will enable understanding of complex system behavior much earlier in the product life cycle.
- Model-based visualization will allow seamless navigation among related viewpoints such as system, subsystem, component, as well as production and logistics.
- Models will be used not only to capture design but to embody design rationale by linking design to top-level customer and programmatic concerns
- On so on and so forth”
So Systems Engineering lacks a science. It’s OK, we have our best practices and it works. That why, when you look at the definition of Systems Engineering from the INCOSE Systems Engineering Handbook:
— notice that word: successful. Rest assured, we are in a profession that produces successful systems.