I’m a System Integration Tester.
This means that when software is developed, just before release I take it and make sure it “fits” with all the other systems we use. We pay particular attention to the points at which these systems “interface” – where they meet. These points of convergence are key, because these interactions allow the systems to be useful – to work.
If software wasn’t part of a system, if it were somehow “self-contained”, it couldn’t produce an output. Even having a screen, and a user, forms a kind of system.
Each piece of software is a system.
Every bit of hardware it uses is another system.
The area of work it relates to could be considered a system.
The whole network of my organisation could also be considered a system.
Every person who might use our software, or be affected by it, including their partners, kids, jobs, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, our culture, our language, our species, planet, universe…
Sometimes I take my lunch on a little bench in front of a building with a model of the Philae comet lander inside. My workplace designed the on-board chem lab of this little probe, which is now in sat (somewhere) on comet 67P, around 300 million miles from earth. But I don’t look at the model. I watch the bees, which are attracted to a particular type of flower planted beside the bench, as I eat my lunch.
Most days my lunch is pasta and an apple. The pasta comes from wheat grown in fields. Wheat is a grass, so its seeds are distributed by the wind. The wheat grows from seed in the nutrient rich earth, taking energy from the sun and water from precipitation. It is harvested, shipped to a factory and made into pasta, which is then cooked with other similarly-grown ingredients, packaged, and distributed to a supermarket.
Same with the apple, but on a different part of the globe and in a slightly different way. Plants like apple trees are the product of pollination, undertaken by animals like bees. The bees gather pollen from flowers as a source of nutrition. In the process, they distribute it between flowers, allowing the plants to produce seeds. Without bees or animals like them, flowering plants couldn’t reproduce.
Bees know which flowers to visit because of the flower’s electrostatic charge, which they affect when visiting. If a flower has a certain type of charge, it means a bee has recently visited and the flower needs time to resume its usual electrostatic pattern whilst it develops more pollen. So the bee avoids it and moves on to the next plant, wasting no energy.
Exhausting reading, right? And so far I’ve only described a little bit about how my pasta and apple got to the supermarket.
A few of the systems I’ve mentioned: nutrition, the soil, wind, precipitation, seeds, harvesting, transportation, cooking, supermarkets, pollination, bees, electrostatic fields, energy… each one of these systems is so complex you could devote an entire lifetime to it and not understand every aspect of it. How much longer would it take to describe all the facets of all the overlapping systems which were involved in allowing us to send a probe to a comet, hundreds of millions of miles away?
All these systems are interlinked. All of them are inter-related. And they meet at the point where I sit and eat my lunch.
Through us, all systems are connected.
We are conditioned to discard information which is not immediately useful to us. This is a heuristic – a way of approaching things which enables us to quickly proceed using assumptions, past experience and selective focus. Heuristics are useful, but they can blind us. Heuristically, it’s daunting to consider just how much goes into even the most basic systems we rely on. As such, we don’t regularly think about things except on the most surface, functional level.
But just take a moment to consider even a single bee’s life, the complexity of its hive, social structure, reproductive cycle, nervous system. Consider the complex aerodynamics which allow a bee to fly. Consider the bee’s ability to sense electrostatic fields, to instinctively understand what their shape means in terms of pollen production.
Consider that each bee has an inherent preference for a certain type or colour of flower. A personal preference of that individual. In essence, a personality. Consider that a single spoonful of honey represents the life’s work of twelve bees. Twelve whole lives for just enough honey to sweeten a regular bowl of oatmeal. Imagine the enormous number of cells, molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles buzzing between flowers.
A single bee.
Take a moment to consider all the systems you form part of.
You are formed of matter of a variety of chemical types. Your body has a nervous system, a reproductive system, digestive, lymph, endocrine systems. There are many others. You eat, drink, poo, hump, think, wear clothes, live inside a man-made structure. You can read because you have a working knowledge of the system of language, which has developed continuously since the dawn of humanity. You are reading this on a screen representing the systematic application of millions of hours of scientific research, study and understanding. You can access it because you are one node of the global information system, the world wide web.
I wrote this for you. I have a life, a biography, a history, ancestors, genetic traits, preferences, tendencies, aversions. I am a system, comprising as many systems as you. You are reading this because of the causal system – because of every event of my life leading to me to this point of writing it, and sharing it with you. So you, you personally, are also responsible for this part of the system that is “me”.
You may have a partner, may have kids, pets, a robot butler. You have parents, and perhaps brothers or sisters. You may have a job or go to school and be part of another system there. You live somewhere, use the local shops and services. You are part of those systems, too. You live in a country, accounted for in its political process, healthcare system, the laws it imposes. You are human. Humanity can be described as a kind of system, a distinct pattern of interaction which is in a sense different from that which surrounds it.
And similarly…
You are a mammal.
You are vertebrate.
You live on the planet Earth.
You are part of the galaxy.
You are part of the universe.
Remember, each one of these systems is comprised of smaller and smaller systems, and what you see just depends on how closely you choose to look. The universe, the Milky Way, Earth, life, humanity, a person, a circulatory system, blood, a red blood cell, an atom… you are a convergent, key, crucial point of all these systems. We all are.
As Jedi, we have a name for the overall “system of systems”.
May it be with you, always.